SNRE alumnus saves over 2 billion gallons of water with behavioral science technology


As a student in Professor Burt Barnes’s Forest Ecology class, Rob Steiner ’97 remembers trekking into the woods in the middle of winter during five-hour Friday labs.

“I will never forget the hands-on experience and learning the complexity of the ecosystems surrounding Ann Arbor,” the SNRE Environmental Policy and Planning graduate said.

Today, far from those seemingly infinite sub-zero Michigan winters, Rob lives in Coronado, Calif., where he is witness to the opposite end of the environmental spectrum: drought. But, inspired by his SNRE education, Rob is tackling the problem head on by teaching people the value of water and finding ways to use this precious natural resource more efficiently.

“The up-side of the drought is that it has built public awareness of the macro trends in climate change. People see that water is a finite resource we need to use more efficiently,” he said.

In 2009, Rob co-founded WaterSmart software, which uses behavioral psychology principles to improve residential water-use efficiency. WaterSmart won the Imagine H2O’s inaugural water efficiency prize in March 2010 and has saved more than 2.1 billion gallons of water.

In addition, Rob is managing director for the Summit Water Infrastructure Group (SWIG), an investment group that focuses on water and wastewater treatment and reuse. He also serves on the advisory board of Splash, a nonprofit that aims to get clean drinking water to children living in urban poverty. Splash works with foreign governments, organizations, and businesses in developing countries to bring existing water purifying technology to scale, providing more equitable access to clean drinking water. Rob was able to see the impact of the organization’s work firsthand when he traveled to Nepal and Tibet to install water purifying systems in schools.

“I am on a mission to use all resources as efficiently as possible, and I attempt to do that in my personal and professional life. I believe we need to reduce our need to use natural resources overall. When we do need them, we must use them as efficiently as possible,” he said.

SNRE alumnus saves over 2 billion gallons of water with behavioral science technology