In 2017, residents of the Chesapeake Bay region scored a 24 out of 100 on the Stewardship Index: the first comprehensive survey of stewardship actions and attitudes in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. There are three components to this score. The Personal Action score—which is currently 38—measures the adoption of 19 actions that individuals can take to improve water quality and environmental health. The Volunteering score—which is currently 23—measures the portion of the public participating in community efforts to improve water quality and environmental health. And the Advocating score—which is currently 19—measures the portion of the public engaging in local and regional activities on behalf of water quality and environmental health. To score a 100 on the Stewardship Index, everyone in the region would need to do everything they could in their daily lives to improve water quality and environmental health, from personal actions to volunteering and advocating for the environment.
*In 2021, where possible, the Stewardship Workgroup replaced the use of citizen stewardship with the more inclusive stewardship, reinforcing that all residents who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed can be good stewards. The workgroup is considering requesting a change to the outcome language following the process described in the Watershed Agreement.
The Stewardship Index also uses three scores to predict future stewardship. The closer each score is to 100, the more individuals are likely to take actions in the near future to improve water quality and environmental health. The Likely to Take Personal Actions score—which is currently 25—measures residents’ willingness to consider taking an environmentally responsible action they are not taking today. The Likely to Volunteer and Advocate score—which is currently 65—measures residents’ interest in participating in community efforts or civic activities to improve water quality and environmental health. And the Motivating Attitudes score—which is currently 63—measures five key perceptions that can motivate environmentally responsible behavior.
The data that informs the Stewardship Index was collected through English- and Spanish-language landline and mobile phone interviews with 5,200 randomly selected residents between March and May of 2017. The resulting data presents a powerful resource for agencies and organizations working to foster stewardship at all levels of the Stewardship Framework, whether it is through the support of individual action, the support of volunteerism and collective action, or the support of local leaders who mobilize others.
Because this data can be downloaded, segmented and extrapolated by geographic, demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, community attributes, behaviors and attitudes, it can reveal specific findings about different segments of the region’s population. Evidence shows, for example, a correlation between convenient access to water and the adoption of some environmentally responsible actions.
The data has also revealed six high-level findings about watershed residents as a whole.
1. Some actions that have a significant impact on clean water are not widely adopted.
Some of the most impactful actions measured through the Stewardship Index include using a rain barrel to collect rainwater, using a rain garden to collect rainwater and using native plants to replace grass lawns. But these actions have not been adopted to their fullest potential. While 80 percent of residents could install a rain barrel, for example, only 14 percent have done so. While 86 percent of residents could install a rain garden, only 13 percent have done so. And while 82 percent of residents could replace a portion of their lawns with native plants, only 26 percent have done so.
More widely adopted actions include refraining from littering; refraining from pouring medicine, prescription drugs, used cooking oil or grease down the drain; and refraining from blowing grass clippings off of lawns and onto pavement. The popularity of these actions suggests they may be considered social norms in some communities or among some demographics. Agencies and organizations seeking to expand environmental stewardship should take this information into account when selecting audiences to target and actions to promote.
2. Several actions with low adoption rates have a significant likelihood of becoming more common.
For example, while only ten percent of rain barrel owners have connected their barrels to a downspout and ensure they are emptied between storms, 68 percent of the rain barrel owners that have not taken this action consider themselves at least somewhat likely to do so in the future. While only 41 percent of residents usually or always pick up other people’s litter when they see it, more than 50 percent of the residents who have not taken this action consider themselves at least somewhat likely to do so in the future. And while only 47 percent of residents usually or always bag, mulch or compost the leaves that fall on their property, more than 40 percent of the residents who have not taken this action consider themselves at least somewhat likely to do so in the future. These behaviors could serve as focal points for agencies and organizations working to expand environmental stewardship, or as “gateway behaviors” within residential programs that seek to move individuals up an environmental stewardship ladder.
3. About one-third of residents have volunteered their time or donated their money to a charitable organization, but less than two in ten volunteers have done so for an organization that works to protect and restore clean water or environmental health.
This gap in environment-focused volunteerism could be caused by a gap in understanding how to help: 69 percent of residents could not think of a group in their community working to protect or restore local waters and 41 percent did not believe they would know how to volunteer to help their local environment if they wanted to. However, 71 percent of residents want to do more to make their creeks, rivers and lakes healthier, and 86 percent believe that if people work together, water pollution can be fixed.
4. While a small percentage of watershed residents are civically engaged on behalf of the environment, this engagement has the potential to expand.
Thirty-one percent of residents have gotten personally involved in an issue that is important to them by attending a hearing, writing a letter to the editor or engaging in similar behavior. Of that total, only 14 percent reported doing so on behalf of an environmental cause. However, 43 percent of residents could see themselves attending meetings or publicly speaking out in support of clean water, which suggests civic engagement could expand.
5. Most watershed residents believe strong federal and state action is needed to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
While residents are engaged in local actions to protect clean water and environmental health, they also believe state and federal governments play an important role in these efforts. In fact, only eight percent of residents do not agree federal and state action is needed to clean up the Bay.
6. Most residents want to improve the environment around them. But many don’t see themselves as part of the problem.
Seventy-one percent of residents want to do more to make their creeks, rivers and lakes healthier, and 65 percent agree polluted water affects them personally. But only 35 percent agree their actions contribute to water pollution where they live. This suggests organizations advancing environmental stewardship should emphasize the power of personal action and community engagement in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay in order to capitalize on the individual motivation data show exists: 71 percent of residents want to take action to support clean water, and 68 percent are aware of actions they can take to reduce water pollution at the local level.
The long-term success of our work to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay will depend on the support of the people who call this watershed home. As more individuals and organizations direct their time, talents and resources toward reducing pollution, restoring streams and protecting the environment, we will build a larger, broader and more diverse community of stewards to support our conservation goals.
The Stewardship Index—for which data will be collected every three to five years—is a critical part of measuring the impact and tracking the progress of stewardship programs. It helps us understand what watershed residents are doing and would be willing to do to protect and restore clean water and empowers those agencies and organizations that foster behavior change to more effectively craft campaigns for best management practice adoption. It also improves local decision-making and helps funders prioritize their investments in resident-led action.
The Stewardship Workgroup has developed guidelines for practitioners who want to explore the raw data behind the Stewardship Index, and an online dashboard that would allow users to segment this data, create correlations and generate custom reports is under development.
To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:
- Establishing mechanisms to measure the impact and track the progress of stewardship programs;
- Supporting the development and implementation of those highly effective programs that will have the biggest impact on stewardship;
- Expanding the number and diversity of volunteers and community leaders; and
- Expanding the number and diversity of leaders and local champions.
Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur through a stewardship index, which will include a measure of individual behavior change and serve as a baseline from which progress will be measured.
As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s partnership-wide implementation of adaptive management, progress toward this outcome was reviewed and discussed by the Management Board in February of 2020. It will be reviewed and discussed by the Management Board again in February 2022.
Logic & Action Plan
Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.
Completed actions from this outcome's work plan include:
- In 2016, the Stewardship Team worked with the Chesapeake Bay Trust to launch the Chesapeake Outreach Campaign database. This crowd-sourced collection of outreach campaigns helps residents, program planners and behavior change specialists learn from others how to effectively increase the adoption of environmentally responsible behaviors.
- In 2017, the Stewardship Team coordinated a survey of 5,200 residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to bette understand what individuals are doing to protect and restore clean water and how individuals feel about environmental stewardship. The resulting data was used to develop the Stewardship Index: the Chesapeake Bay Program’s first indicator of environmental stewardship and a critical part of tracking progress toward the Stewardship outcome. This survey will be conducted every three to five years.
The Fostering Stewardship Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome.
Participating partners include:
- The State of Delaware
- The State of Maryland
- The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- The Commonwealth of Virginia
- The State of West Virginia
- The District of Columbia
- The Chesapeake Bay Commission
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- The National Park Service
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service