I do love the 4 minute shower challenge! Not the bit of kit itself, which, if truth be told, looks ever more cheap as everyone falls over themselves in a race to produce the cheapest possible timer. For example, most Water Companies have pretty much moved from the shower bob or GabiH2O’s timer to the standard egg timer look. For me the latter is a more classic design, but at the end of the day its still a plastic and plastic combo. I would pay good money for a brass and glass timer (though that’s probably just me!).

But I digress. The four minute shower challenge is not about the timer itself. Its all about the challenge and whether we react better to a challenge rather than the worthy (if important) fact that we should all have shorter showers to save water and reduce CO2 emissions.

So why do I like it so much? Well, firstly, I hate telling people what to do. Friends and family who are reading this and have come on my canal boat with me may beg to differ at this point and they would have a point, if only a small and very moot one. So let me rephrase that. If someone tells me what to do I pretty much immediately want to do the opposite. So therefore its not a tactic I feel comfortable with when talking to pupils about why its important to save water. I would rather give them information about the environmental implications of using water, especially the link between hot water and climate change, find out the inordinately long times some of them are in the shower, use my patented “you do look very clean” tactic and then set the challenge. Bish bosh sorted. They will all rush home and get in and out of that shower in a trice. And the world will be saved …

Ahh, if only it were that easy. . Over the past couple of months I (well ech2o) have set the four minute shower (or bath) challenge to well over 3,000 primary school pupils. Of course for some kids meeting the challenge is the equivalent of falling off a log as they already shower for less than four minutes. For those who are in the shower under ten minutes they will probably rise to the challenge and meet it most of the time (though look out for the “apart from when I’m washing my hair” rider). But it’s the inveterate long showerers who are harder to persuade.

There are two methods we use to make it more likely that the challenge will be met. First up, we ask someone who has a long shower to volunteer that fact. We usually start at 20 minutes and go up from there. And then it goes something like this. “Ok Lydia” (just a name plucked out at random – honest guv) “so you spend 30 minutes in the shower. Well you certainly look really clean, that’s for sure. But then I look really clean too. And I’m in there for four minutes. Because it’s four minutes to get clean and the rest is just chilling under that stream of hot water …” That’s usually pretty effective and then we wheel out our secret weapon. Which is Trevon. Cool name, cool hair, comes from Guyana, talks with a sort of American accent, early 30’s; the point being he has miles more street cred than I have and the kids would rather be like him than like me. We have a little double act of me asking Trevon how long he used to be in the shower, he looks all sheepish and says 30 minutes, the class gasp (we are talking primary school here) and he explains how it was really easy to get to ten minutes, that it was a bit harder after that but that now he’s down to five. (Apart from when he’s washing the cool hair, when he still takes ten) and then we josh about the fact he still can’t actually meet the four minute challenge. And he promises to go home and get it right that very night.

Of course, there is no 100% guarantee it will work but there is research out there that says it does enough times to make it worthwhile setting it and that’s good enough for me.

Next blog – secrets from the world of adolescent showering…

February 2015 – The four minute shower challenge