The challenge to allocate water resources in urban, suburban, rural, and agricultural areas will likely intensify in the coming decades as competition for potable water supplies increases (Springer, 2011). About 35% of domestic potable water, water fit for human consumption, is used for irrigation, 45% is used for thermoelectric production, and only 9% is used for public potable water supplies (U.S. Geological Survey, 2017). Compared with personal direct water uses (e.g., drinking and brushing teeth), outdoor indirect water use (e.g., watering gardens, lawns, and landscapes) is discretionary. Whereas water for irrigation meets a physical need for plants, the water indirectly meets a psychological need by elevating homeowners’ perceived social status through aesthetically pleasing landscapes (Seyranian et al., 2015). In addition, landscapes provide tremendous economic, environmental, and well-being benefits (Hall and Dickson, 2011). Thus, homeowner perceptions about water use and conservation may be related to their perceptions about the importance of plants and landscapes. Attitudes about water conservation, plants, and the importance of landscaping can potentially influence the investment of water resources in existing and future landscapes and, in turn, dramatically affect the future sales of landscape plants.
Demographic characteristics influence residential water use and conservation. Being female is positively correlated with the adoption of drought-tolerant plants as well as water conservation and environmentalism (Fan et al., 2017; Gilg and Barr, 2006); male heads of households were 20% less likely to adopt the use of drought-tolerant plants (Fan et al., 2017). Gregory and Leo (2003) found a slight positive relationship between income and household water use, as did Domene and Saurí (2006). Older individuals had a greater likelihood of water conservation, but increased knowledge and general education appeared to be more directly linked to conserving water (Gilg and Barr, 2006; St. Hilaire et al., 2010).
Lifestyle influences water use. For individuals with high aesthetic and recreational priorities, outdoor water use was high (Beal et al., 2013; Fan et al., 2017; Gregory and Leo, 2003; Springer, 2011; Syme et al., 2004). Jorgensen et al. (2009) and Syme et al. (2004) showed that higher outdoor water use was related to more recreational activities at the residence, higher perceived garden/landscape value, increased spending on their garden or landscape, and dislike for paying an increasing price for water. Householders who perceived that their landscape would increase the resale value of their house used more water annually, as did persons who spent more time outdoors (Syme et al., 2004). Mayer et al. (1999) reported that U.S. households with a garden used 30% more water compared with households that did not maintain one.
Recent research suggests that attitudes toward the uses of potable water supplies have changed in other countries because of greater social awareness and increasingly widespread exposure to drought conditions, which included more pro-conservation behavior (Beal et al., 2013). Education about and adoption of sustainable water use practices may help ensure an adequate supply of irrigation water while conserving water sources for human and ecosystem services. Not only have some attitudes changed but also purchase behavior has changed to include more pro-conservation products. Some research suggests that consumers are willing to pay more for plants grown using more environmentally friendly practices, including water conservation in plant production (Behe et al., 2013; Hall et al., 2010).
Knuth et al. (2018a) showed some attitudinal differences toward water conservation among three groups of subjects who accurately or inaccurately perceived they had been in a drought situation relative to whether they actually had experienced a drought. Among all plant types listed, a greater percentage of those who accurately perceived they were in a drought had purchased evergreen trees and shrubs compared with those who did not accurately perceive a drought. The group that did not accurately perceive the drought placed a higher value on nursery plants grown with fresh water (vs. recycled water or a blend of fresh and recycled water) compared with those who accurately perceived a drought. Knuth et al. (2018b) showed that U.S. consumers valued the production water source more than plant water use in the landscape for both herbaceous and woody shrubs. Their conclusion was that education about contents of recycled water may facilitate greater acceptance, and ultimately the use, of recycled water. Each of these studies highlights the diversity of consumer water use and perceptions of water use and conservation. Here, we address consumer perceptions of residential landscape water conservation, landscape plants, and consumer involvement and expertise.
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