Understanding consumer behaviour to reduce environmental impacts through sustainable product design

2011-05-17T15:57:15Z (GMT) by Tang Tang Tracy Bhamra
The use phase of the lifecycle of electrical products has a significant environmental impact, mainly determined by the consumer’s behaviour. Many consumers do not make the link between their daily consumption behaviour in the household and environmental problems such as climate change. In the 21st century, the residential sector, together with transport and industry, is one of the largest man-made contributors in the UK to climate change. It is argued that technological innovations, current eco-efficient products and consumer education have been ineffective in creating the long term radical behavioural change needed to reduce the impact of product use. Products, as the interface between consumers and consumption activities, have the potential to influence the way in which consumption occurs. In the sustainable design field however, designer responsibility traditionally considers raw material selection and product disposal. There is limited work that addresses the environmental impacts relating directly to use behaviour of the product. This paper illustrates that user behaviour studies can be the preliminary step for designers to improve energy efficiency of products. A single product type, household cold appliance, was chosen as a case to explore the capacity of designer-conducted user study to identify unsustainable aspects of product use. Adopting a user-centred approach, two pilot studies were used to gain an insight into domestic fridge and freezer use in the UK. Qualitative ethnographical research methods were employed to investigate the daily practices and “real” needs of user as well as the connection between the knowledge, attitudes, intention and actual action. The design suggestions drawn from the user behaviour analysis provide examples of how energy impact level of the interaction with the product can be reduced through design.