From good to great: using cultural codes to improve the design and value proposition of sustainable product-service system innovations
2017-10-16T11:17:12Z (GMT) by
Modern lifestyles in the developed regions of the world operate beyond our planet's resource capacity. Over-consumption has not only proven detrimental for the environment, but has also undermined our capacity to achieve deep life satisfaction and societal well-being. Embracing more sustainable ways of consuming and producing is key in order to foster the conditions for humanity to flourish. Strategies for disrupting the dominant consumption patterns lie within the next challenges, as adoption of sustainable innovation is still disappointingly low and needs to be accelerated. Design for Sustainability has contributed important technological advances to improve production and life cycle efficiency (i.e. eco design, cradle to cradle). However, it is increasingly recognised that sustainability is not just a technical matter, but ultimately a cultural issue. One of the problems is that people perceive sustainability as a loss, rather than a gain. Therefore, to drive demand, there is urgency to better understand users aspirations and expectations, i.e. the cultural and socio-symbolic aspects of consumption that influence decision-making. This thesis argues that the perceived value of sustainable innovations can be enhanced by paying more attention to the elaboration of meanings or symbolic value they bring to bear for the user, which can be achieved by strategically framing innovations using high-value contextual signifiers (cultural codes). Drawing on cognitive science, cultural studies and applied semiotics, this research contributes a theoretical framework and case studies of how these theories can support the design process in mapping sociocultural contexts, in order to elaborate sustainable innovations that are perceived as aspirational and relevant. The theory is applied to the case of sustainable Product-Service Systems (PPS bottom-up social innovations) due to the opportunities these pose for systemic disruption, and the cultural barriers for adoption. Through a series of Participatory Action Research interventions, the investigation developed three case studies of how of the framework may benefit sustainable PSS value proposition framing and design, with one application in the context of design education to support the development of designers critical and sociocultural deconstruction capacity and skills. Finally, in exploring the potential that cultural codes offer to improve the design and value proposition of sustainable innovations, this thesis contributes and advances a new perspective for understanding symbolic aspects of consumption, and highlights opportunities for sustainable design to have greater influence in societal transformation.