Design Center Busan - Behavioral change


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Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the human race in our era. We cannot continue in our reliance on depleting and non-renewable fossil fuels to power our world. We all know we need to change our behaviours – yet very little seems to happen. Why? Research shows that people are confused about what actions will really have the most impact on reducing energy, and do not have all the necessary information, right tools, and appropriate feedback on the impact of their actions. To be effective, campaigns and technologies to encourage behavioural change must make an impact on our physical environment, and our personal, social and cultural beliefs and norms. But do they? Smart meters, one of the tools hailed as the digital answer to energy reduction, have come under a barrage of criticism for being badly designed, counter-intuitive, and failing to offer enough encouragement, feedback and motivation for real change. Experientia is currently part of an international team, building a low-to-no carbon emissions block in Helsinki. We are working with the people of Helsinki to design people-centred smart metres, to envisage sustainable services, and to build a realistic, effective framework for behavioural change. Sustainability requires a different lifestyle, but we believe that it is not a lifestyle that requires sacrifices for people – instead it can actually increase human satisfaction, sense of community and neighbourly collaboration and trust. We believe that changing behaviours to achieve a more sustainable future, also implies changing our world to a more enjoyable quality of life.

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  • Let’s start with some questions.

  • Raise your hands: Do you believe that human activity is causing our climate to change?

    In a 2007 survey of views on climate change, 91% of Koreans said that they did.

    To those here today whose answer is no, I have a different question:

  • What will our planet look like, once all our fossil fuels are gone?

  • Perhaps we should start thinking about changing our behaviors.
  • You’ve probably heard before that we are currently using the resources of 1.5 earths – that is, 50% more than the earth can sustain. While much of this usage is by select developed nations, the impact is worldwide.

    Here in Korea recently, you’ve experienced erratic and very rainy weather over August and September and the Seoul people we are working with were complaining quite a bit. The Korean Meteorological Administration says these weather patterns may be an early indicator of global warming.

  • What are you, personally, doing about reducing your energy consumption?

    If the answer is not much – you’re actually not alone. While a lot of attention is being paid to green technologies, we often neglect the human side of the picture – encouraging and empowering people to change their daily behaviors.

  • Renewable energy, smart grids, sustainable technologies and so on, will only make an impact if we also address the underlying behavioral issues of our energy use. What I’d like to talk about today is how we can address through design these human aspects of our energy consumption.

    This is also a story about how any technological intervention needs to be based on a thorough understanding of people and needs to design the use of this technology. That’s what I would call designing for sustainable digital energy.

    In becoming more sustainable, we need to consider three elements:
    1) resources – that is, our energy sources, channels and needs; including our policies and decision-making bodies; How do we respect our environment and manage our resources?
    2) technology, which gives people information, access and control; How can digital tools use human paradigms to empower our change?
    3) And finally, people, that is, human contexts and human psychology, an understanding of people’s behaviors and how to influence them. How do we change individually?
  • I’d like to quote Ms. Min-hyung Lee, who is the director of the Future Science and Technology Strategy Center at Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute. She said something really smart – and dare I say courageous – in her “Green humanism” vision for Korea’s R&D future, as published in the Korea Herald:

    “A green humanism society calls for fundamental innovations, rather than incremental improvement, to tackle challenges facing mankind and to respond to the demands of a new society.”

    A sustainable future, in other words, needs innovations that are transformational, radical, and disruptive. We mustn’t be afraid of these words as designers, engineers, and business people, because we – you – are the people who have to work with governments to make courageous policies, and to empower people to make changes on a personal level.

  • What struck me about Ms. Lee’s argument - she is indeed a smart woman - is that she and her colleagues are proposing a new system of values by which government and business can work.

    The Korean government has forecast that Korea, now the 13th economy in the world is going to be the 10th in 2040, and that one of the core growth engines of this future will be new and renewable energy.
    At the same time, Korea has set targets to reduce emissions by 30% by 2020.

    But how can we really start reducing the numbers?

    The low hanging fruits are taken. We can’t think anymore just about “swapping” or replacing current technologies with their low-consumption alternatives.

    Instead, to reduce our consumption to sustainable levels, our sources of energy, our infrastructures and large technical systems have to be revolutionized.
  • We have to approach innovation in a way that re-imagines our societies from the ground up.

    And we have to imagine a different role for business within this new paradigm.

    To again quote Ms. Lee, “Sustainable economic development must be achieved through a virtuous cycle of a low carbon industrial growth and resolution of environmental issues.”
  • Changes in infrastructure and large technical systems are long-term changes, which will need time to be implemented well, although the current economic crisis is speeding up the change.

    In the mean time, people need to engage with the idea of more sustainable lives. We know that individuals can reduce their energy use by as much as 15% if the tools and commitment are there.

    Right now, this commitment is often contradictory: people say that they’d like to be more sustainable, and yet it is often not a critical factor in the way they vote, in the way they live, or in the things they buy.

    Technology could help to bridge this gap between what we think and want to do, and what we actually do.

  • Digital tools, such as smart meters, home energy dashboards etc. are being developed now by some big players, such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, GE and major electricity companies, among others.

    At Experientia, we are working on a new advanced paradigm of human-centered smart meter design as part of a low to no carbon emissions construction project in Helsinki, called Low2No.

    Our designs are aimed at the end-user, not at utilities.

    They aggregate real-time energy consumption information, billing, savings tips, and social networking, and they use people-centered paradigms to communicate it.

    What do I mean by people-centered paradigms?

  • How many kilowatts did you consume last month?

    Not many of you would be able to answer me – and that’s because we don’t think that way.

    It’s important that tools that are aimed at changing our behavior represent information in a way that makes sense to us.

    We need to understand how people think about energy: is it in terms of watts, dollars, light bulbs, trees cut down? Asking people these sorts of questions is an important first step.

  • We’ve also identified three core activities that an advanced smart meter should promote.

    These are the ability to check information, compare it against norms, and take appropriate actions.

  • So, checking the facts: this might be feedback and predictions about personal consumption use, or info on products and services.

    To make good decisions, people need clear, quickly understandable information, visualized in a way that makes sense to them.

    If the interface is overly complicated, difficult to understand, and requires lots of learning time and effort, people simply won’t use it.

    You should be able to back-cast and forecast, and even do some simple planning activities (booking a car or a sauna - we are doing this in Finland after all!) and check the energy impact.

  • Then, we need the ability to compare. This might be comparison between available products, or my behavior compared to my neighbor, or to an average, or a goal.

    Of course, we want people who are consuming above average to start consuming less, but we have to be careful that people who are told they are consuming below average don’t react by starting to consume more.

    One well known study in California used a smiley face on the bill to give people a kind of social approval of their low consumption levels, and that was all it took to encourage them to maintain their low levels of energy use.

  • Finally, people need to know the possible actions to take, and be prompted to change.

    Because change can be overwhelming and even threatening, people should be presented with short-term, easily achievable changes at first, such as changing to low-consumption light bulbs, washing clothes with cold water, etc.

    Once people are more engaged and comfortable with the idea of change, long-term, higher investment changes can be introduced, such as using renewable energy suppliers, or reducing the number of flights they take each year.

  • People really need to trust the information that they are receiving, and to believe that it is accurate, and working in their best interests.

    Too many existing smart meters seem to provide benefits to the utilities provider rather than to the end-user.

    Smart meter programs in Texas and California suffered from huge backlash, because consumer groups believed the meters resulted were measuring incorrectly.

    If people are going to really use and trust smart meters, they need to be onboard from the beginning, involved in the design process and consulted in installation decisions.

  • Additionally, we need to take care that the smart meters don’t become less effective over longer periods of time, after the initial thrill wears off.

    This image from TheFunTheory shows recycling turned into a fast-reflexes game. The machine got people recycling huge amounts of bottles – but will the effect wear off once people have played the game a few times? Is fun enough?

    To result in long-term change, the new behaviors need to become embedded in people’s routines, be supported by appropriate legislation, and become a core part of personal and shared community values.

  • Let’s imagine that we have created the perfect home energy dashboard. It provides the right information, well-visualized, shows the household that consumption is above average, and how to act to cut it back.

  • But people are not changing their behavior. Why not?
  • Let’s look closer. Maybe the dashboard is out of sight and it’s been forgotten about. Maybe in this busy home, no one has the time to worry about it, just to think “I’ll look at that later.” Maybe the parents are doing their best, but the computer and TV in their teenager’s bedroom stay on all night.

    In asking people to change their behavior, we are battling against some powerful forces: routine, inertia, comfort levels, skepticism, and lack of motivation and very distant consequences of climate change, and all this works to keep people repeating the same old actions.

    Before we can really hope to change people’s behaviors, we have to understand their contexts, their priorities, their attitudes, their values.

  • Economically, we often picture human beings as driven by the desire to optimize their personal conditions and self-gain. So a lot of smart meter initiatives right now focus on financial savings.

    But we’re not just motivated by the desire to save a few cents off our electricity bill. In fact, many people would probably be willing to pay the extra cents for the convenience of not having to think about the problem.

    So we need to focus not on those few cents (and current results are as low as 2.8% reduction in bills) but on how these cents add up to a bigger movement, of new cultural norms and common values, shared by a larger community, in which individual actions are part of a collective commitment to global sustainability.

  • This is a behavioral change framework that we developed at Experientia as we explored how to address change on the level of cultural norms.

    It identifies the interplay of forces that impact the likelihood of people changing behaviors. These fall into four categories:

  • The space and communities people live in, heating needs, transport infrastructure, light conditions, water and food supplies, and available technology.

    For instance, in Seoul until recently it was quite impossible to use bicycles. Now there are more and more bicycle paths: not just along the Han River, but also inland – on major traffic routes. And bicycles are indeed showing up.

  • This includes people’s personal green values, their consumption behavior, and level of self-awareness regarding their individual impact.

  • This refers to community identity, values, beliefs, memories, needs, and habits. The degree of shared acceptance of green values, and the collective knowledge of behavioral impact on climate and options to modify it.

    This image shows the Living Light sculpture, in the Seoul Peace Park, across from the World Cup Stadium. The sculpture displays air quality in Seoul neighborhoods. It’s an interesting attempt to construct the kind of shared knowledge, awareness and sense of values that I’m talking about, at the Social level of the model.

  • Finally, cultural. This is the commitment of public administrations and business organizations to green values; incentives, improvement and maintenance programs.

    I don’t have to inform you here about the major commitment to sustainability that your government and major corporations have taken and are now starting to implement in concrete actions.

  • The framework also defines four different kinds of actions that can influence the four forces: Engagement and Awareness, Community Actions, Self Assessment and Leading by Example.

    Engagement and Awareness
    This is about access to meaningful and contextual information, tools for evaluation, and showing the effect of personal actions.

    Community Actions
    Once something becomes a social activity, linked to personal reputation, family, neighbors and peers become a force of encouragement and support.

    Self Assessment
    People and communities need to be able to assess their actual consumption patterns and their positive impact, creating a virtuous circle in which decrease of consumption reinforces further reductions.

    Leading by Example
    Governments and local authorities need to model the behaviors they are hoping to encourage in their populations, and to offer public incentives to sustain change, both for individuals, communities and for small and big businesses.

  • So what are the next steps in achieving this vision of systemic change?

    Well, let’s come back to the question I asked at the beginning of the presentation about what you are doing personally to reduce your energy consumption.

    The first step is to realize, on a personal level, that we all need to change our behaviors and our norms, and thinking about how we can do that, while maintaining an enjoyable quality of life.

    Then, we need to enable those changes in our communities, our cities and our countries.

    We need to create a paradigm which is not only more sustainable, but also implies a future where we put aside the drive to consume, and rediscover the richness and fullness of human interaction and community – and now I am back at the vision of green humanism that your compatriot Ms. Lee so forcefully set out.

    For this to happen, the market has to be made ready.

    The change IS happening and business has to be ready to respond to the coming demand for new tools that reflect and build new social attitudes.

    Korea has a great opportunity. The commitment to sustainability and the open debate on your future R&D policies indicate that you have space to be shifting in a more durable direction. With the right policies and attitudes, Korea can seize the chance to push the change, both in terms of inventing new technologies, and to position and embed them within new values and norms.

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