This post originally appeared in KLH Sustainability’s blog.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend a day of Ecobuild, billed as the world’s biggest event for sustainable design, construction and the built environment. I’d heard mixed reviews of it before I went, some saying that what had started as a grassroots movement had turned into a run-of-the-mill trade show. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the running theme through the sessions I attended was a focus not on parts, but on people. So often the focus is on the technological innovations required to develop sustainably, but it’s critically important to invest in the people part of the people-profit-planet triple-bottom line, which was emphasised throughout the panels.
Many of the sessions highlighted the performance gap (the disconnect between the way sustainable buildings are designed and how they operate) and the role that early interaction and communication with occupants plays in reducing that gap. Developments are more successful from a technical, environmental and social standpoint if people are an integral part of the design process rather than having design solutions imposed on them.
Chris Twinn, chairing the The missing link: Engaging and empowering residents to optimise building performance session, indicated that we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of “educating” people, but rather, we should be “working with” them.
The road from technological innovation to user integration can be like a game of Chinese whispers (that’s “telephone” in the US), attempting to relay product instructions from inventor to supplier, to designer, to developer, to sales team, to property manager, to occupant. This results in lack of confidence about products, scepticism about policies promoting them and fundamentally poor sustainability outcomes.
To counteract this, promising, people-focused solutions suggested at Ecobuild included:
- developing better user integration into products;
- improving behaviour change messaging by appealing to emotion and value instead of only economics;
- integrating intuitive feedback loops into smart systems instead of hiding efficiency behind a black box;
- communicating to audiences through local community leaders through spheres of influence;
- developing programs that train local representatives to be able to explain, troubleshoot and repair smart systems; and
- end-user focused approaches that measure comfort, wellbeing, health and other factors that people looking for homes and businesses care about.