Green vs. Gray: People prefer conservation as a way to protect drinking water

Kent Messer (CBEAR Director), Sean Ellis (PhD Student, University of Delaware), Matthew Miller (PhD Student, University of Delaware) and Jacob Fooks (UD Alum and USDA Economic Research Service) recently had an article about comparing public interest in investments in “green” infrastructure compared to “gray” infrastructure to protect drinking water sources published in Agricultural and Resource Economics Review.

The research team used an economic experiment and sampled approximately 250 adults in northern Delaware. Participants had an opportunity to donate towards gray infrastructure investments (to the American Water Works Association) or towards green infrastructure investments (to The Conservation Fund).

“People are much more willing to pay for conservation,” Messer said. “They like the idea of permanently protecting the waters from their source and avoiding having to do technological fixes.”

In addition to studying the difference of preferences for green infrastructure and gray infrastructure, the research team also examined messaging and its impact on donations. The research compared use of emphasizing climate change or global warming and emphasizing increased extreme weather events. Results suggest that emphasizing extreme weather events in messaging requesting the donation reduced willingness to pay for infrastructure investments, regardless if those investments were in green or gray infrastructure.

Watch the video about the research >>

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