The SBI provides a tracking mechanism across the Puget Sound region for long-term shifts in behaviors and practices that affect environmental quality. This indicator serves as an ongoing measure for public adoption of a variety of practices that affect water quality and aquatic habitat and as a way to assess program outcomes for campaigns that work to raise awareness of how our everyday actions impact Puget Sound waterways. By measuring long-term shifts in behaviors and practices across the Puget Sound region, the index gives policy makers a tool to set priorities for regional and local programs and a baseline from which to measure progress.
There is not an established monitoring program, but the Puget Sound Partnership has so far funded the Sound Behavior Surveys and analysis needed to compile the index data.
Puget Sound Partnership
The Sound Behavior Index (SBI) is based on a survey of Puget Sound residents that asks about behaviors and practices within individual households that can affect water quality and aquatic habitat. The indicator does not attempt to include all environmental behaviors. Instead, it focuses on those proven to affect water quality and habitat. Residents are asked about behaviors across the following topics:
The index compiles into a single value survey responses to questions focused on 28 household behaviors (where relevant to respondents) that have positive and negative impacts on water quality and aquatic habitat. One example of a positive behavior is planting or keeping native plants on your property and a negative behavior is using pesticides or insecticides in your yard or garden. The list of behaviors were chosen because they were specific, measurable, repetitive behaviors such that surveys can be repeated in the future using standard methods and data can compared. The index is thus designed to be tracked over time. The uniformity and broad scope across the region provides:
Data have been collected four times between 2012 to 2019 via the Sound Behavior Survey, commissioned by the Puget Sound Partnership. The surveys were conducted in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2019. The 2012 SBI value is set at 1.0, which is a typical starting point for a new index, and serves as a baseline measure from which subsequent iterations of SBI results are compared. Increases in the index value, compared to previous iterations, will indicate increased adoption of environmentally beneficial practices across the region. Decreasing values will indicate declining adoption of these practices.
Participants responded to each item in the SBI based on the frequency (on a scale) with which they engaged in each behavior. The frequency scale ranged from 1 to 5, with 1 being ‘never’ and 5 being ‘always’ for those items that were environmentally friendly. Respondents could also indicate that an item was ‘not applicable’. The scoring for the scale was reversed for items that were detrimental to the environment. This reversed scoring ensured that the higher the overall SBI score, the more environmentally friendly the respondent. Each item in the SBI was weighted equally in the overall SBI score.
Standard questions about demographics were included in the survey instrument. Individuals’ SBI results were weighted by age and gender to balance the survey sample so it reflects the 2017 American Community Survey estimates for each county in the region. The county SBI numbers were then weighted by population size to generate an SBI score for the Puget Sound region.
The 2019 study was the first to use an online survey format, whereas the first three iterations of the SBI study were conducted using a phone-based survey. A randomized sample of residents were selected across the 12-county Puget Sound region and sent mailers directing them to the survey link. The 2019 randomized survey generated 1,732 responses.
A parallel, “opt-in” survey was also distributed to Puget Sound residents using Facebook advertisements in 2019. Demographics and SBI scores varied between those who responded to a mailer and those who responded to a Facebook advertisement. Because of these differences and the intent to be consistent with past survey methods, which were randomly distributed, the results reported here are based on the online survey responses and do not include “opt-in” survey responses.
The Sound Behavior survey was also deployed at the national scale. Results are not presented here but are available in the links below.
For a detailed review of the methodology, survey questions and results generated by all three survey instruments, see the Sound Behavior Index 2019 Survey Report. SBI survey reports for past years are available here.
In 2019, the SBI reached its highest level (1.10) since 2012 and underlying results suggest that residents are engaging in positive behaviors more frequently and negative behaviors less frequently than in past survey years. Survey results from 2019 show that residents significantly improved in over half of the behaviors measured (16 out of 28) compared to past survey years. Nearly three-quarters (11 out of 15) of the helpful behaviors residents were asked about improved significantly in 2019. Less than half (5 out of 13) of the harmful behaviors improved significantly in 2019.
Most behaviors associated with yard and garden maintenance improved significantly in 2019. For example, 70% of respondents reported always or usually planting or keeping native plants on their property, and over 80% of respondents reported always or usually pulling weeds by hand or with tools. Looking at harmful behaviors, most respondents (82%) reported never or seldom using chemicals to control or kill insects in their yard.
Most behaviors associated with the maintenance of septic systems improved significantly in 2019. For example, nearly three-quarters (74%) reported always or usually getting their septic system pumped every 3-5 years and 53% reported getting their septic system inspected annually.
The behaviors that did not significantly improve generally showed little change from previous sample years. However, the frequency of using moss killer on roofs (a harmful behavior) did appear to significantly increase in 2019 relative to the baseline year. For more detail on individual behaviors, see table of helpful and harmful behaviors below.
The SBI calculated at the county-level can be used to track change over time within each county. Differences in index values between counties should be interpreted with caution because not all types of behavior are relevant to every county. For example, a person who does not have a boat, lawn, or a septic system does not have the opportunity to pollute via those things. The portions of people who own such things varies from county to county (e.g., more boats per capita in San Juan County, more people without yards in King County, more septic systems per capita in Mason County). Therefore, some locations present a greater opportunity for environmentally harmful behaviors than other locations regardless of the motivations of their residents.
Compared to past surveys, Kitsap, Mason, Pierce and Snohomish counties saw an improved SBI in 2019. The 2019 SBI in Eastern Jefferson and San Juan counties was the lowest reported since surveying began. Other counties show a mixed trend: for example, Island, King, Thurston and Whatcom counties did not improve from 2012, but did improve from 2013 and 2015. Skagit County improved from 2012, but saw a reduction from the 2015 score. For more detail, see SBI by county figure below.
Survey results in 2019 indicate that residents’ behavior is more environmentally friendly with respect to water quality across most areas measured. It is not clear what to attribute these changes to, but a few explanations may be campaigns to raise awareness among residents about their impacts on Puget Sound health, a shifting political and social climate toward environmental issues, and demographic differences between the sample and the population.
The relationship between respondent demographics and SBI scores was explored through multiple regression techniques. The regression results suggest that demographic variables do not explain, with confidence, variation in SBI values among respondents. In general, less than 25 percent of the index variation can be explained by demographic factors.
Results of the regression analysis do suggest that established, well-to-do families may encounter greater opportunities to perform imperfectly, in regards to the selected behaviors in the index. That is, they likely have a higher probability of having lawns, horses, boats, dogs, and engaging in boating and other activities that may produce behaviors adverse to water quality.
Puget Sound Starts Here is a collaborative campaign that aims to raise awareness for how everyday actions impact Puget Sound water quality.
Ward, D., R. Pozdena, B. Brown, L. Ransley, D. Ruggles, and E. Sanford. 2014. The Sound Behavior Index: A Management Tool for Behavioral Aspects of Ecosystem Restoration. Coastal Management, 42:4, 391-408, DOI: 10.1080/08920753.2014.923135
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|Sound Behavior Index
Baseline, Index Value