Few would doubt the need, in today's world, to promote behaviours that actively conserve environmental resources. At a general level, this often involves encouraging behaviours that involve a short-term cost for the individual in order to avoid a long-term negative outcome for the community. Examples of such behaviour are, taking the trouble to turn off lights to save electricity and fixing leaking taps to conserve water. It is these latter kinds of behaviours, namely those associated with the efficient use of water resources, which are the focus of this paper.
Faced with the high economic and practical costs of attempting to supply unlimited amounts of water for the Melbourne metropolitan area, the Board of Works has sought, by a number of means, to persuade its consumers to use water more efficiently. One aspect of its strategy was to promote water conservation within the educational curriculum by designing various educational materials and programs for different school levels. These and other promotional materials were made available to schools in the Melbourne metropolitan area in 1988. Prior to the distribution of this material, the data reported in this paper were gathered as the first stage of a longitudinal evaluation of the Board's education strategy.
The assumption underlying the Board of Works' educational program was that behaviour change is preceded by changes in knowledge. For example, it was assumed that a person, knowing something about the water cycle, and the system by which water is fed into our taps, would believe that it is important not to waste water. The result would be active water conservation in daily life. Some basis for this assumption has been provided by the report on domestic water use in Perth, Western Australia (Metropolitan Water Authority, 1985), where knowledge and attitudes were found to be predictors of actual water consumption. Such an assumption is based in a general way on a cognitive or information processing model of behaviour change, in which changes in behaviour are seen as proceeding from changes in relevant information or knowledge. This cognitive model is the basis for many social education programs both in schools and in the community. For example, the Quit Campaign and the AIDS campaign have both used strategies that aimed to inform the public about particular health-related behaviours.