A word from the experts

Reconciling building and occupant behavior: challenges and methods to support changes

July 2021


Delphine Labbouz

Independent consultant-researcher, doctor in social and environmental psychology, specialist in supporting behavior changes for ecological transition

In the building industry, actions aimed at achieving sustainable development goals are often focused on material, structural, technical and technological solutions. However, occupant behavior also plays an essential role in saving water and energy, reducing waste or improving the quality of sorting, for example. It is therefore important to make the link between the technique and the occupants, at all phases of a project, from design to operation-maintenance. It is about placing people at the heart of a building's energy and environmental performance.

What stakes?

The positive effects of the steps aimed at involving the occupants are manifold. First, they promote ownership, acceptability, buy-in and commitment. They also help increase occupant satisfaction, perceived comfort and well-being, while encouraging them to take care of their building. These elements linked to rather individual dimensions combine with more collective dimensions. Indeed, the procedures of involvement strengthen the social bond, the group dynamic and the feeling of belonging. It is also a lever to avoid conflicts, tensions, resistance and blockages while improving the impact and effectiveness of actions.

In a project linked to sustainable development, involving occupants is a key factor in supporting changes towards more sober, efficient, virtuous and sustainable behaviors. These behavioral changes can lead to significant savings in energy bills, up to 20% according to some studies.


How to involve the occupants?

Collecting and taking into account the needs and expectations of occupants, thanks to field surveys, through semi-structured interviews and questionnaires for example, provide a very rich information base which allows in particular to contextualize the approach. In addition, it is important to communicate on the issues in order to clarify the environmental approach which is sometimes still unclear. Why is it important to save energy and reduce the environmental impact of buildings? What are the advantages ? What are the benefits for the environment, comfort, health or social ties, for example?

Communication must, however, go beyond the issues to show how each occupant can act at the level of their building. What is the share of responsibility of each? What are the impacts of eco-gestures? How to act at the individual and collective level? What are the concrete recommendations? Communication being an integral part of the transformation, it aims to allow each occupant to engage in action, thanks to participatory and co-construction approaches, which consider the user as an expert of his place of life, often carrier of fair and appropriate solutions.

Support towards changes in behavior in favor of ecological transition can be carried out with different methodological tools, for example: fun and convivial activities, exchanges between colleagues, more formal training sessions, a process of "awareness-raising by pairs ". Establishing a close relationship, with face-to-face meetings, naturally offers much more powerful effects than virtual exchanges or social networks and in particular makes it possible to adopt a posture of facilitation and active listening, with kindness, respect and empathy, without being judgmental or moralizing.


How to sustain behavioral changes?

First, you have to arouse positive emotions: pleasure, satisfaction, pride, optimism, and promote internal (or intrinsic) rather than external motivations (rewards, punishments, incentives, constraints, etc.). For example, feeling competent and autonomous, acting in accordance with one's personal values ​​and objectives, giving meaning to one's work or one's actions are positive levers towards a change in behavior that brings pleasure and satisfaction. It is also about creating consistency between the different spheres of life (home, work, leisure) for the sake of a comprehensive approach to behavior change.

In organizations, you have to rely on the collective: being part of a group that shares the same values ​​and concerns helps maintain motivation, reduce the feeling of isolation and increase the perceived effectiveness of actions. It also helps to create a new common identity, new social norms to make collective changes sustainable and to give a broader meaning to the environmental dimension, from which we can create cohesion.

Release date : Jeudi 8 Juillet 2021

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