Persuasive technologies within sustainability

In the transition toward a sustainable development that has been addressed as a prior necessity for contemporary society, design is playing a fundamental role. In the last decade the approach to sustainable design has been constantly extending from an effort in reducing product and services environmental impact to the process of facilitating the transition to a pervasive sustainable living.

The role of design has been shifting from making sustainable choices in design processes – i.e. using low-impact materials, consuming less energy in manufacturing processes, improve reuse and recycling – to facilitating societal change – i.e. improving the quality of life, increase democratic participation, enhance personal responsibility (Anastas & Zimmerman, 2003). The same shifting happening now in the sustainable design practice could be found in the development of the sustainability discourse. The definition of sustainability has expanded embracing three requirements: that natural capital remains intact (Environmental sustainability) that development is financially feasible (Economic sustainability) and that the societal cohesion is maintained (Social sustainability). (Barron & Gauntlett, 2002; Elkington, 1998; Gilbert, 2009). In design research and practice sustainability does not defined anymore a specialized sector but a strategy for the promotion of change of human behaviors in society. As the Design Agenda for Sustainability has stated, it is necessary to ‘sustain promising social and technological innovations and to re-orient existing drivers of change towards sustainability’ (Manzini, 2009; p12)

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In this framework, a behavioral change can be approached from many different perspectives.
In the last decade, the need for a change toward sustainable development has encouraged and gave new fuel to the research on the so called persuasive technologies that have somehow redeemed their bad reputation by using their persuasion ability to promote sustainable behaviors rather than to influence consumer’s choices or discourage unwanted procedures (Berdichevsky & Neuenschwander, 1999). Persuasive Technologies, despite the definition of the general class of technology with explicit purpose of changing human attitude and behaviors, have been perceived for long time as specific class of design artifacts.
Persuasive technology has been developed as a discipline by Fogg (2002) in the context of software and web design. His behavioral model for persuasive design proposed three factors for a behavior to happen: motivation, trigger and ability. In Fogg’s work persuasion refers to attempts to influence people’s behaviors, not attitudes (Fogg, 2009). If very much research has been conducted on the topic of how to influence people’s behavior (Cialdini, 2007; Fogg, 2002; IJsselsteijn, Kort, Midden, Eggen, & Hoven, 2006; Kort, IJsselsteijn, Midden, Eggen, & Fogg, 2008; Oinas-Kukkonen, Hasle, Harjumaa, Segerståhl, & Øhrstrøm, 2008) especially in the context of design for sustainable behaviors (Bhamra, Lilley, & Tang, 2008; Lilley, 2009; Lockton, Harrison, & Stanton, 2009; Wever, van Kuijk, & Boks, 2008), there is still a need to understand how to create new attitudes able to change not only people behavior in everyday actions but also their perspective toward a sustainable living. Designing for sustainable behavioral change cannot be enough as it has been demonstrated as often the so-called `rebound effect' negate the beneficial effects of the measures that developers and architects incorporate (Hertz, 1996).
For those reasons, it is now of primary importance to combine a design practice that guides people behaviors toward sustainable actions with the design of product and services able to shape people perspectives on the meaning of sustainable living.
It is not only a matter of understanding the sense of a sustainable approach but to generate a meaning that can be shared and that can explain people behaviors.
In this research, we did not apply persuasive technology as strategies for behavioral change but we considered design as a persuasive technology with a political stance.

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This research is developed within the MIT Mobile Experience Lab and presents some of the great work of Dan Lockton's Design with Intent