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A Brazilian Water Utility Will Pay You To Save Water (And Not Just With A Cheaper Bill)

In Sao Paulo, money flows when you turn off the faucet.

A Brazilian Water Utility Will Pay You To Save Water (And Not Just With A Cheaper Bill)
David Lee/Shutterstock

Sabesp, the water utility in Sao Paulo, is facing growing pains. Charged with delivering water to one of Brazil’s largest cities, its water system leaks 134 gallons each day from each of its connections. Although Sabesp is busy modernizing its infrastructure, it’s also trying a different tactic to change people’s behavior around conserving water: It’s paying them.

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By teaming up with Banco Cyan and the beverage company Ambev, Sabesp is crediting every customer that uses less water than average. It treats its water accounts like bank accounts. Banco Cyan checks your history of water consumption over a given period, and calculates an average consumption rate. Whenever your water use falls below average, you earn credits–redeemable for discounts at numerous participating partners including Submarino, Americanas.com, and Blockbuster.

For now, it’s a challenge just to plug all the different kinds of leaks in the system, and Sabesp is looking to Tokyo as an inspiration. In 1945, the Japanese capital was losing 80% of its water supply to leaks after damages caused by World War II. By 2004, its water-loss rate was down to 4.4%. Sabesp figures it can achieve those numbers within a few years, as it tries to water a modern metropolis, with a little help from people looking for discounts.

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About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment. His favorite topics are wicked problems -- and discoveries such as how dung beetles rely on the light of the Milky Way to navigate (and all that says about the human condition on Earth)

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