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1st Place Pelican Water Scholarship Winner: Wesley Zhang

During the Fall 2015 Pelican Water College Scholarship Contest, some truly exemplary essays were submitted, but no response impressed us more than Wesley Zhang’s detailed and insightful campaign laid out in his essay Get Thirsty: Water Conservation and You. Through a thrilling mix of anecdotal immersion and researched precision Wesley outlines a marketing plan that is passionate, enthusiastic, and sustainable. Pelican Water is proud to announce Wesley Zhang as our 1st place winner.

Wesley Zhang graduated from Madison Central High School where his excellent grades and terrific standardized testing scores led to his qualification as a National Merit Scholarship Finalist. He is currently a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, where he takes engineering classes and participates in campus activities like Green Week and Christians on Campus. The $1500 prize from Pelican Water will assist Wesley as he continues his undergraduate studies.


Get Thirsty: Water Conservation and You


            I looked up from my book and glared at the bathroom. My roommate was brushing his teeth, and he had left the faucet on. Every minute, two gallons of water were being wasted.


            That was the dying wail of good, clean water draining away. Why was it still running?


            “Yo Sully, can you turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth? You don’t need it, do you?” I asked.

“Huh?” he mumbled through toothpaste foam. “Oh uh, sure!”

The sound stopped. The water would live to see another day, to serve an actual purpose. I leaned back into my chair and continued reading, content that I had done my duty for the day.

Though this short anecdote might seem insignificant, it offers insight on why the water conservation movement has stagnated since it began in the 1970s. Quite frankly, young people just don’t know or care about the resources they voraciously consume on a daily basis; my generation has grown up in the age of entitlement, and that atmosphere has shaped not only our social attitudes through individualism but also our mindset on resources and their availability. In stark contrast to the rugged rationing that our grandparents lived through during World War II, my generation is gluttonous when it comes to consumption. We take more food than we can eat and throw it away without remorse and enjoy thirty-minute showers because we “like to think about stuff” in them. Young people seem to be especially unknowledgeable regarding the scarcity of precious freshwater. When asked what percentage of water was freshwater, my roommate cocked his head and said “Eight percent?” He was closer than most would have been, but was still a far cry from the actual 2.5% of freshwater we have. This ignorance manifests itself in several ugly habits; showers are much longer than they should be, and faucets are left running while washing dishes and brushing teeth. However, the problem is not terminal, as seen through my experience with my roommate; if there is one water-conscious individual not afraid to speak out, then the water conservation mindset begins to spread. The only question is this: how do you effectively incite a generation of young people that is more concerned over doctoring photos for likes on Instagram than nursing the terrible wounds we’ve gouged in the environment to care about water conservation?

The easy answer? Grab the youth’s attention and hold it captive until they learn an intrinsic lesson on the value of water. (The hard answer is to cause a paradigm shift in the mindset of society as a whole; if everyone truly realized the importance of water, conservation would be ingrained into our daily ritual. However, changing the habits of society is a long, dedicated process, something a marketing campaign could start but not fully achieve by itself.) Admittedly, raising consciousness about something and making people aware of an issue is a titanic task to tackle. On top of that, even when people understand the metrics and objective facts of a situation, they rarely change their habits or do something about it. Without a meaningful experience with the value of water, young people in America will resist changing their habits, not because they’re bad people, but because the inertia of “doing what we’ve always done” is powerful. Until the youth establish a personal bond with the scarcity of water, they just won’t be internally motivated to exercise good water conservation techniques.

That’s why my water conservation marketing slogan for Pelican Water is “Get Thirsty.”

To begin the crusade against water waste, first establish an information campaign that will serve as the base for other aspects of the campaign. A well-designed internet page dedicated to “Get Thirsty” will be the hub for all campaign-related matters. On top of that, attractive, clever and concise videos could be created to facilitate the growth of the campaign. Several municipalities and non-profits have used the internet as a launch pad to offer simple yet specific facts on water conservation. For example, San Francisco launched their campaign entitled “Water Conservation is Smart and Sexy” with several one minute videos that educated the populace on how to cut back wasteful spending in a fun, memorable manner. However, while having this base of videos and information is necessary to keep the campaign organized, there must be another aspect to the campaign that actively engages people and creates a lasting impression in them. In this area, the catchiness and brevity of “Get Thirsty” shines.

“Get Thirsty” is the key to getting young people personally attached to the matter of water conservation. As mentioned earlier, people won’t change their habits until they have an experience that alters their entire perspective on the matter. Teens today are very in tune with social media, and trends where people record themselves performing a “challenge” and nominate others to perform the same thing spread like wildfire. These challenges are especially effective because once a person participates in the it, they have subjective experience of the encounter, not just objective knowledge of it. On top of that, the challenges are popular because people want their friends and family to have their own subjective experiences, so they nominate each other to participate in them. The driving force of the “Get Thirsty” campaign will be challenges of this nature. “Speedy Shower #getthirsty” could be the first challenge. In it, young people (or anyone) will time how quickly they can shower and share their record times with each other over social media. To hold each other accountable, teens could take videos that timed how quickly they got in and out of the shower (barring the obvious no-no’s of nudity) and race each other in a good-natured contest. This first challenge not only engages young people in the subject of water conservation, but it also gives them first-hand experience on just how easy saving water can be. After they’ve taken a four-minute shower once, they’ll realize that short showers are achievable, and their daily habits will shift to accommodate that new fact. A second challenge that will raise youth awareness on water conservation could be “Water, Water Everywhere, but not a Drop to Drink #getthirsty” challenge. In it, young people will prepare two glasses of water, one fresh, and one salty. They’ll proceed to drink the cup full of saltwater without making a face, all the while recording a video to share on social media. After finishing the cup of salt water, the person will drink the cup of freshwater and marvel at the difference. This challenge further develops the bond that youth have with water and its value; after tasting the awful saltwater and comparing it to the invigorating freshwater, teens will gain a fresh appreciation for the limited amount of freshwater we have on earth. Next time they brush their teeth, they will definitely think twice before letting the water run.

These challenges are just two examples of how to create a campaign that inculcates a natural tendency to conserve water in today’s youth, my generation. By engaging teens and giving them a subjective understanding of the importance of water conservation, be it racing in shower times or drinking saltwater, challenges give the lethargic water conservation movement the edge it needs to engage today’s youth. Teenagers won’t have just vague numbers and data on how important water is, they’ll have memorable experiences on how precious freshwater is and how easy it is to conserve it. Said my roommate after he downed a glass of salt water, “Man this stuff is NASTY! No more. Give me that other cup of water, the freshwater, puh-lease!” As he drank the freshwater, he said “I can’t believe that the earth has so little of this good stuff.” My roommate certainly saw the value of conserving freshwater after drinking one cup of saltwater, something no set of data, no matter how harrowing, could do.

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