Keywords: Individuals, collective, resource consumption, smart grid, daily living, behaviour change in long term, building incentives, interfaces, visible impact, social aspects, energy, water.

The Brief

This workshop explored the roles of the Individual and the collective in achieving sustainable behaviours change and effective residential energy/resource management.

Students explored how future technologies might be directed toward this complex problem space. A good place to start was with the emerging “smart grid” – the efforts promoted by many governments and utilities to modernize, from top to bottom, the system by which power is delivered to consumers. Many of the technologies and standards that will make up the “smart grid” are yet to be defined, and the implications they will have on our patterns of daily living, as well as their likely success, will depend heavily on how they are defined. Much of the burden associated with managing the supply and demand of power will be redistributed; new sources and producers of power will be brought online; the real cost of energy production and consumption will be exposed; and, if the “smart grid” is successful, resources will be managed more efficiently. As is always the case when new systems of this magnitude are being designed, the social implications are potentially problematic. In addition to the potential technology solutions, students drew out and examined these concerns with the aim of influencing technology developers, policy makers, and regulators.

Context of use

The social collective as an agent of behavioural change

A more sustainable approach to our planet’s consumption of resources – the energy-intensive production and by-products of which are, arguably, responsible for our current climatic crisis – will require behavioral and attitudinal changes of each of us as individuals. While individual behavior change is the goal, targeting the individual with messages, tools, and technologies that enable change may not be the most efficient and effective means to that end. Systemic changes are required.

This exploration was on “mainstream” urban apartment dwellers. The emphasis was to concentrate efforts on a “mainstream” audience who may not yet have fully embraced a sustainable lifestyle and who may be motivated to change by very different forces than self-proclaimed “greens.” Urban apartment dwellers make up a demographic group to which many of us belong, and, therefore, one with whose motives, concerns and routines we already may be familiar. Urban apartment dwellers as a group present us with particular challenges as we consider the influence of the social unit; they are more often transient and may live in any one location for only a short period of time; they may be less invested and less “rooted” in their geographically-defined communities. Importantly for us, they are likely to have less control over the infrastructural elements of their environments; they are less likely to make significant alterations to their dwellings that could improve their energy efficiency. Copenhagen also becomes an interesting location as there is a conflux of modern and old world dwellings and energy systems.

While we were concerned about how these individuals become aware of their energy/resource consumption and its broad impact, and about what might motivate them to adopt more sustainable behaviors, in this workshop we focused on a slightly larger unit of investigation: the social collectives to which our “mainstream” urban apartment dwellers might belong. Some examples could be: an apartment block, a neighbourhood, a group of professional colleagues perhaps working for the same employer, a sporting club etc.