An Overview Of Our Solution
The Safer Seas Service (SSS) is an innovative mobile app providing real time water quality information direct to the palm of your hand. It allows surfers, swimmers and all water users to find beaches with the best water quality, to avoid pollution and the associated health risks. The app provides vital public health information, and allows users to take action to campaign for cleaner seas. Users can email their Member of Parliament when there is a sewage spill at a beach in their constituency, calling for action to be taken to end sewage pollution. Health reports can be submitted to SAS to track health risk hot spots. Covering over 370 bathing waters across the UK with over 31,000+ users, the app has issued 898,300 notifications since its launch in 2019 with 3000+ emails sent to a total of 93 MPs demanding better water quality to keep us safe when using the sea.
- Population Impacted: 31000
- Continent: Europe
Raw sewage and agricultural pollution plague the UKs rivers and oceans, putting water users at risk of contracting harmful illnesses, including viruses, and damages natural ocean ecosystems. A 2020 a European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) report highlighted that UK swimmers remain just as likely to become ill from seawater as they were in the 1990’s. In 2019 the European Environment Agency ranked the UK 25 out of 30 European countries for Bathing Water quality. There are 21,462 licensed sewer overflows across England and Wales, 89% of which discharge into rivers (Environment Agency, 2020). 34% of Bathing Waters in the UK need improvement (European Environment Agency, 2019). With increasing value of blue space for mental and physical wellbeing, most water users are unaware of the risks they face. It is critical that legislation and investment is put in place, and, whilst these incidents continue, water users get real-time water quality information to protect them.
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt
Through the SSS app SAS provides the only national real-time water quality service that protects water users from pollution and is a digital activation tool for ocean activists everywhere.
Allows users to look up bathing waters to check water quality or to nominate favourite bathing waters to follow and receive real-time notifications on warnings.
Allows users to be informed when bathing water is safe or not.
Allows users to email the local MP when an incident is reported, asking for them to support legislation and action to improve water quality. Emails are drafted with clear messaging based on SAS’s targeted water quality campaigns.
Allows users to log health issues as a result of poor water quality. Keeping SAS informed of incidents for reporting.
Allows SAS to source data from 370 bathing waters across the UK, forming the backbone of our annual Water Quality Report, a critical tool for advocating major changes by governments, environmental protection bodies and corporations.
Describe your behavioral intervention.
The SSS is a valuable tool for water users to keep them informed and healthy. It provides clear information about risks associated with water pollution and why it is important to avoid. From the apps health reporting feature we have been able to publish case studies of people who have suffered having bathed in polluted waters, further building awareness and understanding of the severity of water pollution.
By letting users know when water is polluted, we change the context in which choices are made, making avoiding swimming in sewage the default option. The app is designed simply to streamline complex decisions and focus users on key information thus effecting the choice architecture. The app sends pop up notifications to let users know when their favourite bathing waters are unsafe for use.
In addition, when marketing the SSS and associated behaviour change, we leverage emotional appeals to engage people based on fear and anger. We want people to avoid polluted water and send messages requesting action from government and corporates. Fear of water pollution and illness is used to motivate people to avoid health risks of using effected bathing water. We leverage anger to motivate people to utilise the digital campaigning tools within the app to contact MPs when they witness unacceptable discharges effecting bathing waters and putting health and environments at risk.
Behavioral Levers Utilized
Describe your implementation
The Safer Seas Service is a digital tool that integrates water company sewage spill-monitoring sensor systems and state-of-the-art forecasting systems provided by the UKs Environmental Regulators. This information was taken to create a mobile app service to provide live sewage discharges and pollution risk warnings, beach profiles, beach facilities, popular activities, and live water conditions for 370+ locations across the UK.
The app design had digital campaigning in mind, allowing users to receive information, but also to feel empowered to create change. This innovative approach to app development allows users to email local MPs when there is a pollution warning in their constituency, highlighting the issue of water quality in their area and calling for change. Users can also submit health reports though the app, allowing SAS to monitor health hot spots, supporting our overarching campaign work on water quality.
There are a number of immediate, midterm and long-term success factors for this Service. In the immediate term we are aiming to notify water users of risks which can be measured in the download rates and level of engagement. We are then looking to increase engagement and empower users to be the voice of the ocean and call for change- sending messages to their local MPs to influence legislation and to corporates to change practices. The ultimate goal is to end sewage pollution into UK bathing waters by 2030 which will only come about through dramatic changes in legislation, infrastructure and practices which will be evidence in the amount of discharges reported.
The SSS is promoted in places that water users go, including targeting water sports publications. It is promoted through the SAS network which reaches nearly a million school students, nearly 100,000 volunteers, 10,000 members and over 305,000 followers on SAS social media channels. Measurable user numbers and digital engagement are a success indicators and have grown rapidly since launch.
Describe the leadership for your solution. Who is leading the implementation?
SSS was devised by SAS’s Campaign and Policy team who project managed the delivery and ongoing monitoring, reporting and improvement of the service.
Working closely with eight major water companies and three environmental regulators was critical in the identifying and scoping of the service and in the ongoing reviewing of data and effectiveness. In turn we are able to continue dialogue to request dialogue and accountability.
Over 30 years, SAS has grown into one of the most successful grassroots marine conservations groups in the world. We are active on the beaches as well as in the halls of Westminster. Our members and 700,000+ volunteers fall outside of the stereotype of environmental volunteers, we mobilise a youthful, impassioned community to capture a unique, authentic voice of the ocean. We remain connected to this voice working in consultation and surveying our community to inform our work.
Share some of the key partners or stakeholders engaged in your solution development and implementation.
SAS is the secretariat for the Ocean Conservation All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). The APPG is a powerful platform to bring together cross-sector stakeholders including environmental charities, NGOs, health experts, businesses and community leaders to evidence and discuss the need for policy drivers and legislative change to better protect the marine environment. It brings together a cross-party coalition of MPs, an important platform to strengthen the influence of SSS data.
In 2020, SAS handed in a petition with 44,691 signatures to the Secretary of State for the Environment, George Eustice. This petition draws from the SSS in both the data collected and the strengthening voice of water users.
The Environment Bill has recently made a long awaited return to the House of Commons. The Bill was introduced early 2020, the global pandemic saw this legislation delayed. Whilst most of the Bill is good, without improvement it falls far short of the world leading legislation that government promised. SAS is encouraging all our ocean activists, to contact their MPs via the SSS asking for them to join the debate and push for stronger measures to protect and improve UK water quality.
SAS also runs Plastic Free Communities programme with 717 registered communities across the UK and a groundbreaking Education programme that equips and empowers young activists with the tools to create positive, lasting environmental change reaching over 930,000 students in 2,348 schools in the UK.
Who adopted the desired behavior(s) and to what degree? Include an explanation of how you measured a change in behavior.
31,000+ users now know risks that bathing waters can pose and can change how they use UK bathing water. 898,300 water quality warnings have been issued.
Users are empowered to demand change from policy makers that affect future water quality. 3000+ emails have been sent to 93 MPs. The switch to digital campaigning models has been important in maintaining engagement of these issues during the pandemic.
We have seen a number of MPs discussing issues with water companies and raising the issue in parliament.
SSS Evidence informs the Water Quality Report demanding higher level future behaviour change and action from Government and Corporates. Including enhanced UK water-quality testing, World-leading water quality and sewage legislation, nature-based solutions to sewage pollution with increased investment for the restoration of natural habitats and Investment from water companies in sewerage infrastructure to end overflows.
How did you impact water pollution? Please be specific and include measurement methodology where relevant.
SSS has ambitious future targets for water quality; to eliminate sewage discharge into UK bathing waters by 2030. Specifically;
- Enhanced water-quality testing regime for the UK’s water quality, testing for emerging viruses and antimicrobial resistant bacteria as well as accurate real-time water quality information all-year round for all UK inland and coastal Bathing Waters
- World-leading water quality legislation with an Environment Bill and sewage legislation with ambitious and legally binding targets to end untreated sewage discharge in all Bathing Waters by 2030. Legislation is needed for both inland and coastal waters
- Nature-based solutions to sewage pollution with increased investment and associated targets for the restoration of natural habitats, reducing pressure on systems and preventing overflows, whilst increasing biodiversity and tackling climate change
Investment from water companies in sewerage infrastructure to eventually end the use of overflows
How has your solution impacted equity challenges (including race, gender, ethnicity, social class/income, or others)?
To reach a diverse a group of water users as possible, we commissioned an intuitive, easy to use and visually attractive mobile app. It was critical that the terminology was accessible and that complex information was presented in a digestible manor to aid decision making. Collaboration with a range of stakeholders was integral to the app’s functioning, and was also utilised during the launch and promotion of the app, enabling a greater reach across wider demographics and geographical location.
In 2021 SAS is determining new work across all areas to make our work more inclusive and accessible. In addition, it is a critical tool that is now being shared through our vast SAS network of plastic free communities, schools and Regional Reps. The work that we are undertaking is to recognise gaps in our community reach and identify of increasing our influence and impact.
What were some social and/or community co-benefits?
SSS allows users to raise the issue of poor water quality with local politicians and highlight instances of illness so that these can be tracked for health risk hotspots in SAS’s overarching campaign work. The service provides an innovative way of empowering grassroots activists through digital mechanisms. Information empowers increased, knowledge and understanding of the scale of the water quality and broader environmental issues which are different within specific communities.
What were some environmental co-benefits?
The SSS is a powerful tool which was only launched in May 2019. Its impact is only just starting to grow, initially in keeping water users safe and creating engagement in calls to action for government and corporates. Eventually this increased information, activism and action will lead to environmental co-benefits of increasing Biodiversity and improving marine ecosystems around the UK and flow on to important benefits combating Climate change.
What were some sustainable development co-benefits?
Water quality and health data collected and disseminated through SSS informs and strengthens other areas of SAS’s work in campaigns and policy and key programme delivery areas. It also strengthens relationships with stakeholders including environment agencies. SSS is uniquely positioned in the suite of SAS programmes which creates particular opportunities for funding relationships based on population health.
Sustainability: Describe the economic sustainability of your solution.
It is important that this service is provided free for water users. Ongoing costs of £13,000 include upgrades, marketing and project specific overheads and staffing to manage and report on data.
SAS is a significant national marine conservation group and enjoys a niche position in the UK. Our audience is youthful and impassioned. We enjoy positive relations with the press and receive good coverage when we publish reports and when there are specific pollution incidents.
SAS is a small charity with positive growth in organisational scale, impact and audience. We secure project specific and unrestricted funds from members, trusts and foundations and corporate partnerships. SSS is a critical SAS tool and is attractive to funders.
Return on investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?
Initial project costs for the development of the SSS app were approximately £57,000 including staffing and overheads. If we consider costs incurred broken down to cost per action, we would be pleased with the results.
Cost to keep each 39,000+ users safe in the bathing waters: £1.5
Cost per notification: £0.63 per pollution notification warning issued.
The number of users grows rapidly each bathing season and so these figures will become even more efficient with low ongoing costs. We do depreciate the initial capital outlay each year.
How could we successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?
With the right partnerships in place this could be replicated. The success is dependent on robust relationships with the water companies and environment agencies providing goodwill and incident data. The app itself is quite straightforward and the ongoing management and marketing scale able. SAS has identified a number of scale ups for the SSS including; Inclusion of inland waterways, extending the service further and reflect the diversity of recreational water use in the UK. SAS is also planning the provision of year-round water quality information – water use is not just confined to bathing season months and it is essential that all year-round information is provided to ensure the safety of water users. It is not a legal requirement for UK water companies to provide water quality information outside of official bathing season and while some choose to, others choose not to. SAS is well positioned to advocate for this to become a requirement in the future.