Water awareness attitudes in Hungarian society

Based on the Forsense Institute’s previous representative surveys concerning environmental sustainability, we can conclude that Hungarian society is sensitive to the problems associated with water at the global, the national and the local level as well. The problems ranging from water scarcity as a source of international conflicts (water and peace) to water cleanliness (sanitation) are ranked high among the environmental challenges expected in the future. According to a 2013 survey, the largest number of people, almost fifty percent of all respondents, felt that the lack of water for human consumption is one of the greatest socio-economic problem facing mankind, while one in five respondents actually saw that as the number one challenge.

According to the October 2016 Forsense survey, among the possible consequences of climate change, respondents were worried about shortages of clean drinking water: almost three-quarters marked that among the possible answers. The number of people actually marking that as the greatest problem was also exceptionally high at 30 percent.

The six questions of the autumn survey examined attitudes associated with the reduction of water consumption, awareness of water. According to the results, the requirement to save water was presented as a strong norm, as 71% of the respondents agreed that they try to save water in order to protect the environment, while 64 percent also expected other people around them to do so. Reducing household costs was also considered an important reason by many people, two-thirds of the respondents mentioned savings as an important reason.

Based on the views of respondents concerning water consumption and saving water, a multi-variable statistical method was used to allocate the subjects to four groups of roughly equal size. The designations of the groups describe their most important attitudes in relation to water consciousness on the basis of their most important sociological characteristics, and they matched the clusters obtained using the same method in a previous study.

The Aware

The largest group, constituting 27 percent of the sample, were the aware. For the majority of people in that group, saving water is an internally motivated value which has clearly become a conscious commitment in their everyday lives. In their case, it is important that they are not trying to comply with external expectations when they turn off the tap, as they believe that individuals can have an impact on their natural and social environments by saving water. For the very same reason, they believe that others should follow their example and use water frugally – and, naturally, they also believe that this has significant economic benefits.

This group plays an important role with respect to water-conscious thinking and its dissemination through society, and they are highly likely to be conscious citizens in other areas of life, too. Our study clearly shows that the people in this group consider the protection of our water resources, the wildlife of our lakes and rivers to be a priority, and they also think that promoting the frugal use of water to be important. As regards demographics, the group is dominated by active people under 50, and an particular young people under 35, who are largely from cities, primarily from Budapest, and an above-average proportion of people with higher educational qualifications.

The Rule-Followers

The second group, which is only slightly smaller than the first one, is that of rule-followers. They have a strong expectation towards their environments as well as themselves to save water, and they also feel that their environment strongly expect them to do so. They are generally strongly motivated by respect for nature and for rules, but they are also characterised by the belief that they themselves and their own actions are rather inconsequential, they are sceptical about whether their own saving actually does much to protect nature. Probably due to their higher age and their above-average religious orientation, they are diligent in following and integrating the norms associated with being frugal with natural resources, but they don’t see their own roles as deeply connected with those resources. On the other hand, they are strongly motivated by a more tangible attitude, strongly supported by their social status and financial position, i.e. the notion that the careful use of water will actually save them money.

The group of rule-followers is largely composed of older people from rural backgrounds with lower educational qualifications. Almost half of the group are over the age of 65, and an additional third are between 56 and 64 years old, and they are highly likely to live in villages and small towns. The ratio of people with secondary-school diplomas or higher educational qualifications is below average and the lowest among the groups, while the ratio of those with vocational qualifications or only elementary school qualifications is above average and the highest among the groups.

The Sceptics

The third group is composed by respondents who can be said to be sceptics in relation to their attitudes towards water frugality. The main characteristic of this group is keeping a distance, whether from the expectations of their environment or their own expectations towards others concerning water usage. They do not believe that their own personal habits, or changing them, could have an impact on the condition of the environment. It is an important feature of this group that it has no specific social or demographic character, it is average on all counts: age distribution, educational qualifications and financial situations were all found to be close to the average.

The Unconcerned

The majority of those in the unconcerned group are essentially quite aware that their habits do have an impact on the environment, but they feel neither an internal, nor an external motivation to save water. They aren’t even really motivated by the money they could save.

As regards the characteristics and value choices of this group, we found a strong demographic bias: most of the people in this group are young people under 35, who live in better than average financial conditions, have secondary-school diplomas and use the Internet every day. Over a third of the young people often referred to as the Y-generation fall in this group, and they constitute half the group: their value choices, their attitudes towards natural resources an the associated problems, their lack of involvement leaves a strong mark on the character of the group as a whole.