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Towards a socio-material approach to reducing the water demand of cleanliness

Simpson, Karen

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Karen Simpson


In the UK, water supplies are under pressure from climate, population, and lifestyle change, and showering is the largest component of domestic water consumption. Students are high water-users, in part due to pressure to conform to high standards of cleanliness and body-image to be accepted into new social groups away from the family home. Spatial transience means that their everyday routines are dynamic, and habits are shaped by their changing socio-material context. This thesis makes a three-fold contribution to knowledge and substantive water conservation practice – theoretical, methodological, and empirical in a real-world setting. The research focused on practical shower water-saving measures targeted at first year university students living in campus accommodation at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK. A programme of both conventional showering demand reduction and novel social practice theory-based interventions were designed and evaluated, framed using the Scottish Government Individual-Social-Material model. A mixed-methods approach was developed to test the efficacy of measures and provide end-user insights to interpret changes in volumetric water consumption. An exploratory or baseline phase followed by two intensive waves of fieldwork, spread across two academic years with different student cohorts were delivered. Household meter and logged shower fixture volumetric consumption was assessed to confirm typical water-use patterns at different scales. Personal-use questionnaire responses were analysed to classify student showering styles. Volumetric findings were validated and interpreted by combining with shower diary and focus group insights. Theoretical, methodological, and empirical contributions were discussed and recommendations for future water efficiency strategies and further research were proposed.


Simpson, K. Towards a socio-material approach to reducing the water demand of cleanliness. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jun 14, 2022
Publicly Available Date Sep 28, 2023
Public URL
Award Date Sep 28, 2023


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