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The Decision to Go Green: Individual vs. Group Influences on Our Likelihood to Build Sustainably

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The Decision to Go Green: Individual vs. Group Influences on Our Likelihood to Build Sustainably

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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.

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.

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The Decision to Go Green: Individual vs. Group Influences on Our Likelihood to Build Sustainably

  1. 1. 2009 BECC Conference Presentation The Decision to Go Green: Individual vs. Group Influences on Our Likelihood to Build Sustainably Marcel Harmon, PhD, PE, LEED-AP Introduction (SLIDE 1) Introductory remarks. (SLIDE 2) Depending on the source you site, buildings in the United States account for anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions compared to transportation and industry. (SLIDE 3) Globally, studies place that value anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent. I think everyone in this room would agree that the built environment in general consumes a significant portion of our world’s resources and its collective carbon footprint will have to be reduced to effectively bring 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 see that there has been a rapid increase in reducing the building sector’s carbon footprint over the last five years, 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 allow emissions and CO2 levels to stabilize. According to the recently released 2009 Green Building Market and Impact Report, the current projected penetration rate of LEED certification has the potential to account for half of this building wedge 2050 target. Unfortunately the slope of the LEED carbon reduction line shown here is too shallow through 2030 – only accounting for roughly 10% of the wedge by this date. The rate of LEED adoption (as well as other green certification systems and sustainable design/construction practices) must be increased in the near term to maximize GHG reductions from building 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 struggle to convince an owner to incorporate a truly effective sustainable design, construction, and O&M process into their various projects. Premiums associated with sustainable design/construction (small though 11/19/2009 1
  2. 2. 2009 BECC Conference Presentation they may be), paybacks longer than 3 years, narrow views of the benefits that exclude the occupant, and fears associated with having personnel (and occupants) capable of operating and maintaining a green facility, are often enough to kill “green”, or greatly reduce its scope. I’ve touted occupant benefits ‘till I’m blue in the face with some owners to no avail. Benefits that include performance/productivity enhancements resulting from daylighting, (SLIDE 6) from indoor air quality improvements, (SLIDE 7) and from 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 to building operations costs is about 1 to 1.5, but the ratio of construction costs to business operations is on the order of 1 to 15. So the occupant-related financial benefits of successful green building far outweigh the energy- and operations-related benefits. But even a life cycle cost analysis taking all of these factors into account often isn’t enough. Why? Background/Hypothesis (SLIDE 9) Human interaction is a complicated, messy process with multiple competing interests and benefits that occur at the various levels of individual and group interaction involved in any given situation. 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 on Environmental Decisions (CRED) – their research has demonstrated that the long term benefits that result 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 analytical vs. emotional reactions. The former carefully considers costs versus benefits, while the latter interprets risks emotionally; as a “primitive and urgent reaction to danger” intended to rapidly size up a given 11/19/2009 2
  3. 3. 2009 BECC Conference Presentation situation and remove us from that danger. Neither system is particularly suited for rationally considering long-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 variability smaller (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 room explanation). As a result our 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. 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 and those we call our own. Current and projected crises in other countries or regions, or that affect different social/cultural groups and are not perceived as providing us with risk, may not result in a response or change in our behavior. However, this picture begins to change when decision making shifts from the individual and very small group level to larger groups. If cooperation and group unity is achieved, decision making is often made 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 initial cost while at the same time providing for a safer environment over the life-spans of our buildings, which may be multi-generational. (SLIDE 12) This fits well within a branch of evolutionary theory known as multi-level selection, or MLS. MLS provides a framework in which natural selection and other evolutionary forces operate at all 11/19/2009 3
  4. 4. 2009 BECC Conference Presentation levels simultaneously – genes, cells, organisms/individuals, and groups of organisms/individuals. Sometimes environmental and social/cultural conditions are right for the evolutionary forces to be stronger at the level of the individual; sometimes these forces are stronger at the group level, resulting in highly cohesive groups. Uniformity among group members, high levels of cooperation, and functional integration become the hallmarks of successful groups. (SLIDE 13) Within MLS the two sides of human behavior known as selfishness and pro-social behavior each become advantageous at different levels of interaction. While “selfish acts”, such as a city official accepting a bribe to ignore aspects of the building code for a particular project, or a CEO deciding to avoid the extra cost of installing an intelligent lighting control system, will benefit individuals or small groups competing within larger groups, pro-social behaviors, such as the pursuit of LEED Platinum or dying 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-social behaviors tend to be globally advantageous and more relevant in the long term. Prosocial behaviors also 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 of uniformity in their behavior. (SLIDE 14) The selective advantage that cooperation and prosocial behavior offered our hunter/gatherer ancestors fostered the development of a species of very social creatures who in general love to congregate. Other CRED studies have demonstrated how easy it is to get even random individuals 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 them together at a table increased participation rates to 75 percent. This ability to function easily and well within groups is a core component of what it is to be human, and may offer some insights in promoting sustainable behaviors. 11/19/2009 4
  5. 5. 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 the above 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 delayed benefits were the primary decision makers involved. And it would also suggest that these decision makers had less influence from other people within their own organization, as well as outside their organization. So this essentially became the hypothesis to test: (SLIDE 15) Hypothesis: The 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. Methodology/Study Structure To test this, I decided to compare a dataset of certified, non-certified but green, and conventionally designed facilities with respect to the decision makers – the number of decision makers involved, who they were, their demographic make-up, their core values, and the degree of outside influence that impacted their decisions. By certified, I’m referring to any recognized formal means of sustainable design & construction verification. LEED is typically what comes to mind here, but there are others, such as Energy Star, Green Globes, Green Star, etc. Data collection has been primarily through surveys to members of project design teams as well as building owners, with subsequent follow up for clarification where respondents indicate a willingness to be contacted. In addition, further background research on a project-by-project basis will occur as a means of randomly “checking” the answers submitted, 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
  6. 6. 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 email lists (Space-and-Place listserv, Anthrodesign, Epic-Global-Impact, and the BigGreen listserv) for review as well as to actually collect preliminary data (primarily M.E. Group projects), and 3) analyzing the review comments and data with the goal of evaluating/fine-tuning the survey tool and the research process in general. 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 the preliminary Phase 1 findings for funding requests, perhaps partnering with a university and/or other private 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, facility type, 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 whether certification was pursued. It also provides the information on the type and version of certification system 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 the number of people inside and outside the organization influencing this decision. In addition, it seeks to 11/19/2009 6
  7. 7. 2009 BECC Conference Presentation determine the respondents understanding of why sustainable elements and/or certification was or was not pursued. For those that are interested in viewing the survey, it is at the following address; and I would 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 – not enough to reach definitive conclusions, but their analysis is nevertheless interesting and has provided some insights into the remaining process. I’ve initially looked at the correlation between the number of people involved in the decision process (directly and via influence) and both a) the number of sustainable elements incorporated and b) the level of certification sought. Specifically I ran a Kendall’s Tau-B correlation test and the table here shows the resulting rank correlation coefficients for each comparison. The coefficient can range from -1 to 1, with -1 indicating perfect disagreement or negative correlation between the two variables, 1 indicating perfect agreement and 0 indicating complete independence between the two variables (no correlation). To quickly clarify the variables involved, the sustainability indicator is simply the sum of the number of sustainable elements incorporated into each project and the certification indicator represents the survey responses weighted by the certification level achieved. In the survey, the people involved were subdivided into 1) the number directly involved in the decision, 2) the number within the organization who influenced the decision makers (such as employees), and 3) the number outside the organization who influenced the decision makers (such as tenants, customers, etc.). The other two columns represent combining the number estimates for a) all those within the organization and b) all of the people involved. Several things are worth noting. All coefficients are positive, indicating at least some agreement in all of the variable comparisons. So as the number of people involved per project increases within this dataset, so does the degree of sustainability and certification. In addition, notice that the agreements 11/19/2009 7
  8. 8. 2009 BECC Conference Presentation are stronger for the certification indicator than for the sustainability indicator. This is not surprising as achieving certification is a prosocial formal process that typically requires some additional resources for the certification paperwork, commissioning, and generally incorporating a broader suite of sustainable elements. In contrast, the sustainability indicator simply tells us whether or not individual sustainable elements were incorporated into design and construction, not necessarily as part of a focused prosocial sustainable effort. Even in an environment where short term, local considerations rule, individual sustainable elements will make into a design here and there because of the short term benefits they may also offer. And finally note that the coefficients indicate increasing agreement going from the individual decision makers, to those within the organization influencing the decision makers, to those influencing externally. Now this may partially be an artifact of the number ranges that I’m using in the survey to choose from for the number of people questions - organizational decision making bodies typically consist of smaller numbers of people, and therefore the ranges that I’m using in the survey may not be fine 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 the answer 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 make cost/benefit decisions within a short term, local framework. Hence the lower agreement values for this column. But when we move to the level of the organization, there is an increase in the level of agreement, though its still below 0.5, likely reflecting a highly contextual mix of short term, local and long term, global considerations at play. But the biggest jump in agreement occurs going from within the organization to outside the organization. Here we approach both numbers of people and geographic areas 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
  9. 9. 2009 BECC Conference Presentation an 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 construction or existing renovations, it will increase the likelihood that these projects will be sustainable and certified. Conclusion (SLIDE 20) Now obviously with such a small dataset this analysis has been more of an intellectual exercise to help lay the groundwork for the Phase 2 portion of the research. Research that will continue to illuminate the nature of group vs. individual influences on sustainable decision making in the building construction industry, as well as how contextual social/cultural norms impact the nature of these group vs. individual influences. And though preliminary, the results did support the hypothesis that the more people who have a say in the decisions involved in a construction project, the more likely it will be designed and built sustainably, all else being equal. And even the Phase 1 research will provide some insight into facilitating policies, messages, and procedures that increase the rate of effective sustainable design/construction. Having owners reach out to employees, clients, tenants, etc., to solicit direct input being 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 highly adapted for in order to meet. 11/19/2009 9
  10. 10. The Decision to Go Green:  Individual vs. Group Influences on Our  Likelihood to Build Sustainably Marcel Harmon, Ph.D., P.E., LEED‐AP
  11. 11. Built Environment’s Impact 48% Buildings 27% Industry 25% Transportation U.S. Energy Consumption & GHG  Emissions By Sector Source: Architecture 2030 & US Energy Information Administration
  12. 12. 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)
  13. 13. LEED Registered Vs. Certified Floor Area Source: GreenerBuildings and JohnsonDiversey Webinar, 11/05/09
  14. 14. LEED & Building Carbon “Wedge” Source: GreenerBuildings and JohnsonDiversey Webinar, 11/05/09
  15. 15. 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. 
  16. 16. 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.
  17. 17. 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. 
  18. 18. 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.
  19. 19. Human Interaction
  20. 20. Decision Making Systems Analytical vs. Emotional
  21. 21. Stone‐Age Minds Our 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
  22. 22. Multi‐Level Selection (MLS) Group Evolutionary forces act at  Individual all levels simultaneously,  and may be stronger at a  Cell specific level at any given  time Gene
  23. 23. Prosocial Vs. Selfish Behaviors Prosocial Selfishness Behavior Individuals &  Larger  Small Groups Groups Within  Between  Group  Group  Selection Selection Short Term &  Long Term &  Local Global
  24. 24. Working Together
  25. 25. Hypothesis The 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.
  26. 26. Research Phases Phase 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 process Phase 2 • Possible partnering and funding requests; • Wider distribution of final survey tool; • Follow up and background research • Data analysis, interpretation, and conclusions
  27. 27. Survey http://www.formspring.com/forms/megroup‐project_sustainability_survey
  28. 28. Kendall Tau‐B Rank  Correlation Coefficients Increasing Numbers of People Increasing Agreement Internal People  External People  People Making  Combined  Combined  Influencing Final  Influencing Final  Final Decision (1) 1 + 2 1 + 2 +3 Decision (2) Decision (3) Sustainability  0.158 0.232 0.174 0.499 0.476 Indicator Certification  0.369 0.472 0.397 0.651 0.605 Indicator Generally Increasing Agreement
  29. 29. Reaching Out to Employees,  Customers, Tenants, Etc.
  30. 30. Group Effort

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