The Decision to Go Green: Individual vs. Group Influences on Our Likelihood to Build Sustainably
2009 BECC Conference Presentation - Both the text and the slides
Recent studies by researchers affiliated with the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) have demonstrated that the long term benefits that result from green, sustainable design, are given more weight by groups as opposed to individuals. Our evolutionary past, with its focus on daily survival, has designed our individual analytical and emotional decision making systems to focus on short-term costs/benefits as well as those “threats” that have an immediate impact on our daily lives. Pressing work deadlines, job loss, etc., have more meaning to us than melting polar ice caps or invisible gases in the atmosphere. But in cohesive groups, decisions are more likely to be made with respect to the common good; and when the common good coincides with the delayed benefits obtained from sustainable design, groups are more likely to go “green” than individuals.
In the building construction industry, short term benefits often outweigh long-term benefits when making decisions on how green to be. Following the above line of reasoning, this suggests that individuals or small groups whose common good does not coincide with green’s delayed benefits are the primary decision makers involved. The author will test this by comparing a dataset of LEED, non-LEED but green, and conventionally designed facilities with respect to the decision makers – who they were, their demographic make-up, and their core values. The results should provide insight into the challenges faced in greening our built environment and the solutions needed to ensure a more rapid move to sustainability.
The Decision to Go Green: Individual vs. Group Influences on Our Likelihood to Build Sustainably
2009 BECC Conference Presentation The Decision to Go Green: Individual vs. Group Influences on Our Likelihood to Build Sustainably Marcel Harmon, PhD, PE, LEED-APIntroduction (SLIDE 1) Introductory remarks. (SLIDE 2) Depending on the source you site, buildings in the United Statesaccount for anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions compared to transportationand industry. (SLIDE 3) Globally, studies place that value anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent. Ithink everyone in this room would agree that the built environment in general consumes a significantportion of our world’s resources and its collective carbon footprint will have to be reduced to effectivelybring down greenhouse gas emissions to levels proposed by the IPCC and other organizations. (SLIDE 4) If we use LEED registration and certification as a proxy for sustainability, we can seethat there has been a rapid increase in reducing the building sector’s carbon footprint over the last fiveyears, and that trend is expected to continue. But will it happen fast enough? (SLIDE 5) Out of the eight“wedges” of global actions for reducing GHG emissions, one is devoted to building energy efficiency,represented by the maroon wedge here. Effectively applying each wedge before 2050 would allowemissions and CO2 levels to stabilize. According to the recently released 2009 Green Building Marketand Impact Report, the current projected penetration rate of LEED certification has the potential toaccount for half of this building wedge 2050 target. Unfortunately the slope of the LEED carbonreduction line shown here is too shallow through 2030 – only accounting for roughly 10% of the wedgeby this date. The rate of LEED adoption (as well as other green certification systems and sustainabledesign/construction practices) must be increased in the near term to maximize GHG reductions frombuilding energy efficiency in order to match or exceed the slope of the building wedge line. But anyone who’s worked in the building construction industry knows that it’s often a struggleto convince an owner to incorporate a truly effective sustainable design, construction, and O&M processinto their various projects. Premiums associated with sustainable design/construction (small though 11/19/2009 1
2009 BECC Conference Presentationthey may be), paybacks longer than 3 years, narrow views of the benefits that exclude the occupant, andfears associated with having personnel (and occupants) capable of operating and maintaining a greenfacility, are often enough to kill “green”, or greatly reduce its scope. I’ve touted occupant benefits ‘tillI’m blue in the face with some owners to no avail. Benefits that include performance/productivityenhancements resulting from daylighting, (SLIDE 6) from indoor air quality improvements, (SLIDE 7) andfrom increased local environmental control. (SLIDE 8) Such occupant factors comprise a large portion of business operating expenses.Studies have shown that over the span of about 20 years, the ratio of building construction cost tobuilding operations costs is about 1 to 1.5, but the ratio of construction costs to business operations ison the order of 1 to 15. So the occupant-related financial benefits of successful green building faroutweigh the energy- and operations-related benefits. But even a life cycle cost analysis taking all ofthese factors into account often isn’t enough. Why?Background/Hypothesis (SLIDE 9) Human interaction is a complicated, messy process with multiple competing interestsand benefits that occur at the various levels of individual and group interaction involved in any givensituation. This, along with the hierarchy of variables involved in our consumption, conservation, and self-preservation habits can elevate short-term considerations above long-term considerations. (SLIDE 10) Enter the studies by researchers affiliated with the Center for Research onEnvironmental Decisions (CRED) – their research has demonstrated that the long term benefits thatresult from green, sustainable design are given more weight by groups as opposed to individuals.Cognitive psychologists generally divide our decision making systems, with respect to risk, into analyticalvs. emotional reactions. The former carefully considers costs versus benefits, while the latter interpretsrisks emotionally; as a “primitive and urgent reaction to danger” intended to rapidly size up a given 11/19/2009 2
2009 BECC Conference Presentationsituation and remove us from that danger. Neither system is particularly suited for rationally consideringlong-term benefits thanks to our evolutionary past as hunter/gatherers. (SLIDE 11) This is not meant as an insult, but you all have Stone Age brains. Our “stone-age”brains and cognitive abilities evolved in the vastly different and more limited context of our ancestors;the people dealt with on a daily basis were fewer, the geographic area and environmental variabilitysmaller (their world was “smaller”), and the “future” limited to the annual cycles of weather, migration,etc. Most of our evolutionary history was spent in this type of environment (timeline around the roomexplanation). As a result our analytical analyses and emotional responses tend to over emphasize thoseevents, threats, etc., that have immediate impact in our daily lives – i.e., job loss, daily deadlines, etc. vs.rising sea levels or GHG emissions. In addition, these studies have demonstrated that the degree of our reactions, responses,urgencies, and calls to action end up being relative to our perception of the impact on ourselves andthose we call our own. Current and projected crises in other countries or regions, or that affectdifferent social/cultural groups and are not perceived as providing us with risk, may not result in aresponse or change in our behavior. However, this picture begins to change when decision making shifts from the individual and verysmall group level to larger groups. If cooperation and group unity is achieved, decision making is oftenmade with respect to the common good. Delayed, long-term benefits are given more weight by groups(households, companies, community boards, etc.) than by individuals. For example, the development,modification, and acceptance of building codes is a group endeavor; one that generally increases initialcost while at the same time providing for a safer environment over the life-spans of our buildings, whichmay be multi-generational. (SLIDE 12) This fits well within a branch of evolutionary theory known as multi-level selection, orMLS. MLS provides a framework in which natural selection and other evolutionary forces operate at all 11/19/2009 3
2009 BECC Conference Presentationlevels simultaneously – genes, cells, organisms/individuals, and groups of organisms/individuals.Sometimes environmental and social/cultural conditions are right for the evolutionary forces to bestronger at the level of the individual; sometimes these forces are stronger at the group level, resultingin highly cohesive groups. Uniformity among group members, high levels of cooperation, and functionalintegration become the hallmarks of successful groups. (SLIDE 13) Within MLS the two sides of human behavior known as selfishness and pro-socialbehavior each become advantageous at different levels of interaction. While “selfish acts”, such as a cityofficial accepting a bribe to ignore aspects of the building code for a particular project, or a CEO decidingto avoid the extra cost of installing an intelligent lighting control system, will benefit individuals or smallgroups competing within larger groups, pro-social behaviors, such as the pursuit of LEED Platinum ordying for one’s country, will benefit larger groups encompassing these individuals and smaller groups.Selfish behaviors tend to be locally advantageous and more relevant in the short term, while pro-socialbehaviors tend to be globally advantageous and more relevant in the long term. Prosocial behaviorsalso tend to enhance cooperation among group members. And our social/cultural norms act as a kind of“glue”, binding together unrelated individuals within larger groups and providing a measure ofuniformity in their behavior. (SLIDE 14) The selective advantage that cooperation and prosocial behavior offered ourhunter/gatherer ancestors fostered the development of a species of very social creatures who in generallove to congregate. Other CRED studies have demonstrated how easy it is to get even randomindividuals to work together. In one test subjects were given a blue star and told they were on the “blue-star team”; this alone increased group participation from 35 percent to 50 percent. Just seating themtogether at a table increased participation rates to 75 percent. This ability to function easily and wellwithin groups is a core component of what it is to be human, and may offer some insights in promotingsustainable behaviors. 11/19/2009 4
2009 BECC Conference Presentation So going back to the building construction industry, it would seem that short term, local,benefits often outweigh long-term benefits when making decisions on how green to be. Following theabove line of reasoning, this suggests that in those cases where short term, local benefits have won out,individuals or small groups whose common good did not necessarily coincide with green’s delayedbenefits were the primary decision makers involved. And it would also suggest that these decisionmakers had less influence from other people within their own organization, as well as outside theirorganization. So this essentially became the hypothesis to test: (SLIDE 15) Hypothesis: The more people who have a say in the decisions involved in aconstruction project (particularly earlier in the design process), the more likely it will be designed andbuilt sustainably (LEED or otherwise), all else being equal.Methodology/Study Structure To test this, I decided to compare a dataset of certified, non-certified but green, andconventionally designed facilities with respect to the decision makers – the number of decision makersinvolved, who they were, their demographic make-up, their core values, and the degree of outsideinfluence that impacted their decisions. By certified, I’m referring to any recognized formal means ofsustainable design & construction verification. LEED is typically what comes to mind here, but there areothers, such as Energy Star, Green Globes, Green Star, etc. Data collection has been primarily throughsurveys to members of project design teams as well as building owners, with subsequent follow up forclarification where respondents indicate a willingness to be contacted. In addition, further backgroundresearch on a project-by-project basis will occur as a means of randomly “checking” the answerssubmitted, as well as to further clarify project contextual information related to the decision makers. • Funding sources for the project • The number of people involved or influencing the final decision process. 11/19/2009 5
2009 BECC Conference Presentation • The demographic background of the individuals and/or group(s) involved in making the final decision • The reasons that the final decision was based on • How to gauge the success of the project in terms of sustainability. • The nature of the local social/cultural rules of interactions, the social/cultural concepts of sustainability (business, ethnicity, etc.) that facilitated the interactions involved in the final decision making process. (SLIDE 16) I have divided the research into two phases. Phase 1, which I am currently finishing,has consisted of 1) developing the survey tool, 2) distributing it internally and externally via a few emaillists (Space-and-Place listserv, Anthrodesign, Epic-Global-Impact, and the BigGreen listserv) for review aswell as to actually collect preliminary data (primarily M.E. Group projects), and 3) analyzing the reviewcomments and data with the goal of evaluating/fine-tuning the survey tool and the research process ingeneral. Phase 2 will consist of a much wider distribution of the survey tool to M.E. Group clients,partners, and contacts, multiple email lists, and social networking sites. I am considering using thepreliminary Phase 1 findings for funding requests, perhaps partnering with a university and/or otherprivate partner to assist with the follow-ups, random checks, and data analyses. (SLIDE 17) The survey itself currently consists of 30 questions, subdivided into 3 sections.Section 1 provides the “book-keeping” information on the project itself, such as project name, facilitytype, funding sources, etc. Section 2 provides the information on the sustainable nature of the project –the types of sustainable elements that were incorporated into the project regardless of whethercertification was pursued. It also provides the information on the type and version of certificationsystem used (i.e., LEED NC, version 2.2) and the level of certification achieved (i.e., certified, silver, gold,platinum). Section 3 seeks to understand the quantity of people involved in the final decision and thenumber of people inside and outside the organization influencing this decision. In addition, it seeks to 11/19/2009 6
2009 BECC Conference Presentationdetermine the respondents understanding of why sustainable elements and/or certification was or wasnot pursued. For those that are interested in viewing the survey, it is at the following address; and Iwould welcome additional comments before implementing phase 2.Initial Results/Discussion (SLIDE 18) Currently I have 26 projects entered into the database via this survey tool – notenough to reach definitive conclusions, but their analysis is nevertheless interesting and has providedsome insights into the remaining process. I’ve initially looked at the correlation between the number ofpeople involved in the decision process (directly and via influence) and both a) the number ofsustainable elements incorporated and b) the level of certification sought. Specifically I ran a Kendall’sTau-B correlation test and the table here shows the resulting rank correlation coefficients for eachcomparison. The coefficient can range from -1 to 1, with -1 indicating perfect disagreement or negativecorrelation between the two variables, 1 indicating perfect agreement and 0 indicating completeindependence between the two variables (no correlation). To quickly clarify the variables involved, the sustainability indicator is simply the sum of thenumber of sustainable elements incorporated into each project and the certification indicatorrepresents the survey responses weighted by the certification level achieved. In the survey, the peopleinvolved were subdivided into 1) the number directly involved in the decision, 2) the number within theorganization who influenced the decision makers (such as employees), and 3) the number outside theorganization who influenced the decision makers (such as tenants, customers, etc.). The other twocolumns represent combining the number estimates for a) all those within the organization and b) all ofthe people involved. Several things are worth noting. All coefficients are positive, indicating at least some agreementin all of the variable comparisons. So as the number of people involved per project increases within thisdataset, so does the degree of sustainability and certification. In addition, notice that the agreements 11/19/2009 7
2009 BECC Conference Presentationare stronger for the certification indicator than for the sustainability indicator. This is not surprising asachieving certification is a prosocial formal process that typically requires some additional resources forthe certification paperwork, commissioning, and generally incorporating a broader suite of sustainableelements. In contrast, the sustainability indicator simply tells us whether or not individual sustainableelements were incorporated into design and construction, not necessarily as part of a focused prosocialsustainable effort. Even in an environment where short term, local considerations rule, individualsustainable elements will make into a design here and there because of the short term benefits theymay also offer. And finally note that the coefficients indicate increasing agreement going from the individualdecision makers, to those within the organization influencing the decision makers, to those influencingexternally. Now this may partially be an artifact of the number ranges that I’m using in the survey tochoose from for the number of people questions - organizational decision making bodies typicallyconsist of smaller numbers of people, and therefore the ranges that I’m using in the survey may not befine enough to detect the increases in the decision makers that may be occurring. Regardless, though,we’re still talking about small numbers of people even if there is an increase, so I think most of theanswer lies in the previous MLS and CRED decision making discussions. Now all else being equal, individuals and small numbers of people are more likely to makecost/benefit decisions within a short term, local framework. Hence the lower agreement values for thiscolumn. But when we move to the level of the organization, there is an increase in the level ofagreement, though its still below 0.5, likely reflecting a highly contextual mix of short term, local andlong term, global considerations at play. But the biggest jump in agreement occurs going from within theorganization to outside the organization. Here we approach both numbers of people and geographicareas that potentially move us substantially beyond short term, localized costs/benefits. (SLIDE 19)Assuming that the Phase 2 efforts confirm these results, this would suggest that by somehow creating 11/19/2009 8
2009 BECC Conference Presentationan environment where building owners actively reach out to their employees, as well as their clients,tenants, surrounding neighbors, etc., and directly solicit their opinions regarding any new constructionor existing renovations, it will increase the likelihood that these projects will be sustainable andcertified.Conclusion (SLIDE 20) Now obviously with such a small dataset this analysis has been more of an intellectualexercise to help lay the groundwork for the Phase 2 portion of the research. Research that will continueto illuminate the nature of group vs. individual influences on sustainable decision making in the buildingconstruction industry, as well as how contextual social/cultural norms impact the nature of these groupvs. individual influences. And though preliminary, the results did support the hypothesis that the morepeople who have a say in the decisions involved in a construction project, the more likely it will bedesigned and built sustainably, all else being equal. And even the Phase 1 research will provide someinsight into facilitating policies, messages, and procedures that increase the rate of effective sustainabledesign/construction. Having owners reach out to employees, clients, tenants, etc., to solicit direct inputbeing a case in point. Now I try to avoid bad puns whenever possible, but this is going to require a“group” effort to move forward. It will be a challenge, but on the bright side its one that we’re highlyadapted for in order to meet. 11/19/2009 9
The Decision to Go Green: Individual vs. Group Influences on Our Likelihood to Build Sustainably Marcel Harmon, Ph.D., P.E., LEED‐AP
Built Environment’s Impact 48% Buildings 27% Industry 25% TransportationU.S. Energy Consumption & GHG Emissions By Sector Source: Architecture 2030 & US Energy Information Administration
Buildings in the U.S.,• Consume 71% of the electricity produced.• Consume 12% of the total water used.• Produce 65% of the waste generated.Buildings worldwide,• Consume 40% of the total materials & energy used.• Consume 17% of the total water used.• Consume 25% of the total wood harvested. Source: US Green Building Council (USGBC)
LEED Registered Vs. Certified Floor Area Source: GreenerBuildings and JohnsonDiversey Webinar, 11/05/09
LEED & Building Carbon “Wedge” Source: GreenerBuildings and JohnsonDiversey Webinar, 11/05/09
Performance/Productivity Compared to little or no daylighting, classrooms with large amounts of daylighting have been found to increase the rate of student learning by: 20% in math 26% in reading- Heschong Mahone Group. 1999. Daylighting in Schools: An Investigation into the Relationship Between Daylight and Human Performance. Report submitted to Pacific Gas and Electric. http://www.h‐m‐g.com.
Performance/Productivity IAQ Improvements: save up to $58 billion in lost sick time save additional $200 billion in worker performance.- Fisk, W. G. 2000, Health and Productivity Gains from Better Indoor Environments and Their Relationship with Building Energy Efficiency. Annual Review of Energy and Environment 25(1):537‐566. Later updated for 2002 dollars.
Performance/Productivity Increased tenant environmental control have been found to provide average measured workforce productivity gains of: 7.1% with lighting control, 1.8% with ventilation control, and 1.2% with thermal control.- Kats, G., L. Alevantis, A. Berman, E. Mills, and J. Perlman, 2003. The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Building: A Report to California’s Sustainable Building Task Force.
Sustainable Building Benefits Over 20 – 25 years, for a 16 typical service business: 14 Ratio of amortized 12 10 construction cost to 8 building operating costs to 6 staff salaries/business 4 operating costs = 2 1:1.5:15 0 Construction Bldg Business- Commission for Architecture and the Built Operations Operations Environment and the British Council for Relative Cost Offices, London, UK, 2005.
Decision Making Systems Analytical vs. Emotional
Stone‐Age MindsOur analytical analyses and emotional responses tend to over emphasize those events, threats, etc., that have immediate impact in our daily lives – i.e., job loss, daily deadlines, etc. vs. rising sea levels or GHG emissions
Multi‐Level Selection (MLS) GroupEvolutionary forces act at Individualall levels simultaneously, and may be stronger at a Cellspecific level at any given time Gene
Prosocial Vs. Selfish Behaviors Prosocial Selfishness Behavior Individuals & Larger Small Groups Groups Within Between Group Group Selection Selection Short Term & Long Term & Local Global
HypothesisThe more people who have a say in the decisions involved in a construction project (particularly earlier in the design process), the more likely it will be designed and built sustainably (LEED or otherwise), all else being equal.
Research PhasesPhase 1• Developing the survey tool;• Distributing it internally and externally for review comments and preliminary data;• Analyzing the review comments and data to evaluate/fine tune survey tool and research processPhase 2• Possible partnering and funding requests;• Wider distribution of final survey tool;• Follow up and background research• Data analysis, interpretation, and conclusions