The simplest way to save water and energy is to install water-efficient products, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
However, raising awareness through education remains the largest barrier among consumers for shifting to modern tech solutions and starting to use water with sustainability in mind, says Rachio CMO Aaron Pollack.
Aaron, having a personal vision toward a greener future, talks to DesignRush about the challenges and opportunities in making smart watering systems a staple in homes across the U.S.
Aaron is the Chief Marketing Officer at Rachio, the trailblazing smart-yard technology company leading the way in sustainable water use. With over two decades of experience in brand-building, product development and campaign execution — particularly in the tech and IoT spaces at companies like Nanit, Canary and BlackBerry — Aaron is elevating Rachio to the forefront of the Smart Yard industry, advancing the brand’s mission to bring the smart home outdoors through conservation and connection.
DesignRush: Could you share the journey that led you to the world of smart watering systems and ultimately to Rachio?
Aaron: I joined the company about two years ago, after having spent most of my career in tech, and the better part of ten years in the IoT space.
After working with so many products that were great at essentially just connecting people to products, I wanted to work for a company that made a bigger impact on the environment. I have been donating to water-related causes for a long time.
I am passionate about saving our oceans from the many threats they face, reducing plastic pollution, reducing water waste and the like, so when Rachio came along, it was almost a no-brainer for me to join and help make a difference.
How should companies approach product development to address the growing consumer demand for sustainability, and where do you see Rachio fitting within that framework?
Every company in every industry should be revolving their product development process around sustainability in some way.
Whether it’s as simple as using recycled materials for packaging or implementing waste reduction in manufacturing, it has to be done or we won’t have a planet to call home.
Rachio excels here – not only have our products saved billions of gallons of water, but we take great care in every step of the process to ensure sustainability is at the forefront.
From paper foam inserts in our boxes to product donations for community projects like public gardens and food forests, to our sprinkler controller recycling program, social responsibility is at the heart of everything we do.
Could you discuss the evolution of smart irrigation technologies in terms of their impact on residential water efficiency, and what industry-wide advancements do you consider most significant?
Rachio has been instrumental in bringing smart irrigation to residential watering.
We introduced the first smart sprinkler controller in 2014, which allowed users to control their sprinkler systems from their phones using the Rachio app, so they could adjust their watering even while away from home.
Rachio’s intelligent algorithms help customers build personalized watering schedules that fit the needs of their plants, climate and specific landscape while using water efficiently and properly.
As a result, our customers have saved nearly 200 billion gallons of water! (enough for the whole U.S. population to fulfill its water needs for nearly a week).
As the smart yard evolves, Rachio will continue to lead in offering state-of-the-art features that have real value. This year, we launched Valve Monitoring which allows customers to know if there is a short or some other issue within their system, right in their app.
As homes become increasingly interconnected with smart devices, what do you believe are the key considerations for smart irrigation systems to ensure a user-friendly experience?
This is another place where Rachio excels.
Our user experience is second to none because for ten years, we have been innovating, learning from our customers – consumers and irrigation professionals alike – and constantly improving our products and software.
That’s basically what needs to continue to happen. "Smart technology" only works if the "smart" evolves as much as the "technology."
So having the latest chipset isn't enough, you have to evolve the user experience, adapt to the changing times – like addressing water regulations for instance – and make it an enjoyable and easy experience for anyone who uses your products.
It’s not easy, and that’s why so many companies fail at IoT. The user experience is everything.
What are some of the barriers to the adoption of smart watering systems that you've observed, and how do you think the industry can overcome these challenges?
Unfortunately, the biggest barrier is simply that many parts of the U.S. are unaware that there are even issues with water conservation.
If you live in California or Colorado for instance, you’ve been hearing about it for many years. If you live in other parts of the country, water conservation can rarely get a storyline in the news.
We’re trying to give people the resources to combat environmental issues they don’t know exist, which ultimately comes down to education and behavioral change, two very difficult and long-lead time efforts.
Companies need to stay focused on educating the masses, letting them know that products like Rachio can help them save water and help the planet, without them having to do much of anything.
Since many consumers take a hands-off approach to their yards, we also need to continue educating the irrigation professionals out there. If they promote water conservation to their customers, it breaks down some more barriers.
Given the impact of climate change on water resources, what contribution do you think smart irrigation tech can make to help alleviate water stress in regions highly susceptible to climate variability?
The way Rachio uses weather, historical data, plant data and other highly accurate data points for consumers to keep their lawns and gardens properly hydrated can be extrapolated at a wider scale.
Recommending when and how long to irrigate a given plant or crop and adjusting based on weather changes is key to precision irrigation. That’s what our system does well.
Our customers also trust us to recommend the best practices for their yard care, and that includes making recommendations on alternative vegetation.
What’s appropriate landscaping in one region of the country may not be the same in another region, so we help our customers understand what plants they should use in their landscaping and gardens to minimize water waste.
How can businesses integrate with municipal efforts to enhance water management, and what implications could this have for community-level conservation initiatives?
We are already working together with hundreds of water districts around the country, helping them reach out to their constituents to understand that there are restrictions in their area, that products like a Rachio controller can help them stay within the guidelines of the law, and in many of these districts, customers can get a Rachio for free through rebate programs offered by municipalities.
When there are particularly difficult periods of drought or water scarcity, Rachio reaches out to our users in those hard-hit areas, reminding them of the situation and asking them to water less or not at all.
Considering the current adoption rates in the smart home market, how far are we from seeing them become commonplace in our society?
I’d venture to say that they already are commonplace.
The average home in America has 16 smart devices in their home, so I’d say that at a minimum, things like an Amazon Echo or Google Home are commonplace, with items like video doorbells, security cameras and smart lights proliferating in a large number of American households.
On the other hand, the smart yard is still very much in the growth phase.
At Rachio, we are bringing the smart home tech that everyone enjoys to the outside of their homes. Our mission is to help customers Connect Outside, and we’re bringing more and more smart yard products to the market each year.
What has been the biggest hurdle in convincing the public to adopt Rachio products – and the concept of smart homes in general – over more traditional systems?
The biggest hurdle is probably awareness – not just of the brand, but of the availability of the products in general.
While most people know about smart home devices, not many realize that there are smart irrigation controllers, smart hose timers and other amazing smart products that can save them time, water and money.
It’ll be a collective effort from all the companies out there to push Smart Yard to a level of awareness and acceptance that already exists with the smart home. People also tend to think smart products are more expensive than conventional products, but that’s not true.
At Rachio, we have products starting under $100, and while the average smart sprinkler controller may cost just a little more than a traditional one, the money and water savings more than make up the difference in as little as your first watering season.
We have customers tell us they’ve saved over 50% on their water bills!
Ultimately, building awareness of the category, the benefits and the possibilities is what we need to focus on in our march toward helping all customers connect outside.
We thank Rachio for this conversation. If you enjoyed it too, be sure to stay tuned for more of our interviews with industry experts!