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People are influenced to behave in an energy efficient and sustainable manner when the physical and social/cultural environment they inhabit encourages or “selects” for such behavior. For building occupants, the environments we design and build for them must generally meet their varying physical, psychological and social/cultural needs or they’ll figure out a way to meet them on their own, often with negative energy and sustainable repercussions. And any direct or indirect messages intentionally crafted to promote desired behavior and decision making must be socially/culturally relevant to be effective – both the message content and means of conveyance. In addition, the quantifiable “soft” costs associated with productivity and health, as well as the “stories” of the occupants and O&M personnel, assist in creating an environment where the benefits of the actions needed to complete all of this are understandable and available to building owners, employers, developers and the general public.
The behavioral sciences provide much of what is needed to help create, evaluate and maintain these efficiency promoting environments. In particular, the four major subfields of anthropology – cultural, physical, linguistic and archaeology – all provide methods (such as ethnography) and interpretive theoretical frameworks (such as evolutionary theory) for understanding human behavior and applying that understanding during programming/planning and design, commissioning and post occupancy evaluations. This paper will present specific research and case study examples the author has been involved with applying anthropology to design, retro-commissioning and post occupancy evaluations, as well as understanding sustainable human decision making in general.