In the former container port area of Helsinki, Finland, a building block is slowly rising that will prototype innovative solutions for green developments worldwide. Named Airut (meaning “messenger” or “herald” in Finnish), the low-carbon emissions block hopes to broadcast its message to the world: that sustainable living can develop side-by-side with higher quality of living, and that the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) set for European buildings in 2020 is achievable now, and must become the way we build and live.
Airut is the outcome of the Low2No carbon emissions building design competition held in 2009 by the Finnish public innovation agency Sitra. The competition was won by a team made up of Arup (a global 6000 person engineering and planning firm), Sauerbruch Hutton (an acclaimed Berlin-based architecture studio), Galley Eco Capital (green building finance specialists from San Francisco), and experience design consultancy Experientia.
Airut is a mixed-use development block, which will house around 500 residents, together with small-carbon-footprint services. It comprises 14,000 square metres of mixed residential space (both rental and privately owned) with 6,500 square metres of office space and a business incubator and 1,800 square metres of commercial space.
Experientia’s role has been to nudge the behaviour of the people that will visit, live and work at Airut, in a lasting sustainable direction. This nudge is being achieved through actively involving potential inhabitants in the development of their future environments, through the design of impactful, sophisticated and sustainable service offerings, and through the creation of behavioural change programs. These interventions will help to reduce energy demand and carbon emissions by enabling residents and workers to make better choices about their consumption while enjoying a very high quality of life. They are, in other words, “soft infrastructure” offerings that will complement the block’s “hard infrastructure” for energy and carbon management, including geothermal pre-heating and cooling, building integrated photovoltaics and a carbon neutral bio-heat product provided by the district heating network.
The construction of the block is underway, and is planned to open to inhabitants in 2016. From there, the sustainable ideals that govern its day-to-day life will act as a model and example for the rest of Helsinki, Finland and the world. It has already won two awards – the 2011 Italian national prize for innovation in services (awarded to Experientia), and an acknowledgement prize in the prestigious 2011 Holcim awards for sustainable construction (awarded to the full design team).
Envisioning – Experientia and Low2No
Sustainable buildings require sustainable living practices. While other team members concentrated on the architectural, engineering and financial strategies for the project, Experientia’s responsibility in the winning team was to address the delicate theme of how to initiate behavioural change to support a sustainable style of living in this completely new urban district.
Starting with the concept that people, their contexts, social networks, habits and beliefs are crucial tools for creating sustainable change in behaviour, Experientia explored ways to offer people control over their consumption and to see the effects of their actions on the environment.
Understanding – a framework for behavioural change
People must be actively involved in creating sustainable change. Technology plays an important role in this change, but by itself it is not enough: for change to really be embedded in our world, it needs to be a part of our lifestyles, with actions and commitment starting from the grassroots, community level.
With this understanding, Experientia began to outline what was necessary for behavioural change to take place in Airut. We identified four arenas in which change must occur:
Within each of these contexts, Experientia developed strategies to empower people’s change, including engagement and awareness programmes, through services aimed at creating social actions based on green values; using technology to assist people in making decisions, such as smart energy meters and dynamic pricing systems; producing positive reinforcement loops (with incentives and benefits) for people who live in, work in and visit Airut; and using the community as a knowledge network to share best practices.
In order to create our behavioural change concepts, we drafted profiles of the people who might inhabit the area and the kind of lifestyles they might live. Looking at the day-to-day movement of these people, we generated ideas around the type of needs and attitudes they might have, the type of services and products they might want, and how their behaviours should and could change for them to become more sustainable.
See our Framework for behavioural change (PDF) article (pre-publication version), published in the UPA’s UX Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4, 4th Quarter 2009.
Design – from proposal to reality
In the design competition phase, Experientia developed fifty ideas for tools and services that could facilitate behavioural change. With the project underway, these fifty ideas were filtered, assessed, combined and narrowed down into the solutions that would enable real behavioural change in the future community of Airut.
During the successive design phase, Experientia distilled these fifty ideas into two main areas of intervention: services to enable people to make more sustainable and more informed choices in daily purchases, and demand management solutions to help people monitor and change behaviours within the home.
Services and sustainability
Experientia planned and designed a service platform, to provide the future inhabitants of Airut with sustainable choices. Our design team’s research has shown that up to 15% reductions in carbon emissions per occupant can be reached when behavioural change programs are successfully implemented.
The Low2No service platform represents one of the principal points of contact with the soul and mission of the zone. It will contribute to making sustainability an integral part of the daily activities and lives of the residents and workers of the area.
After extensive brainstorming, design iterations and participatory workshops in Finland, the final services are:
To run the three service offerings, the Airut team identified and involved a nucleus of local entrepreneurs who expressed interest in investing in the implementation and management of the Low2No services.
The principal qualification for selection was a clear interest in and sharing of the environmental, social and economic sustainability objectives and values of the project. The entrepreneurs, who are already active in the Helsinki urban context, were invited to progressively take part in the research and design activities, constantly collaborating with the designers (architects and experience designers) to define the technical requirements for implementation of the services.
Experientia’s service platform for Low2No won the 2011 Italian national prize for innovation, in the category of ICT & Service Design, for “having planned in Finland a residential zone with low CO2 emissions, using innovative methodologies researched in Italy.”
The Low2No project also won an acknowledgement prize in the 2011 Holcim awards for sustainable construction (see Experientia’s original announcement here).
Demand management solutions -> Smart meters for people
Simultaneously with service design efforts, Experientia’s designers have been conceptualising solutions for carbon demand management (smart meters, web services, urban informatics and other interfaces, sensors, control systems, etc.) with intuitive and engaging interfaces that help people manage their lifestyle toward better, happier and more sustainable behaviours. These smart tools aim to influence behavioural change on individual and community levels and to create energy consumption knowledge and awareness. We are focusing on replicable, innovative solutions and fostering Finnish entrepreneurship.
Experientia’s smart meter designs are aimed at the “end-user”, the people living and working in Airut, enabling them to reduce their carbon impact and supporting the efforts that utilities are already undertaking. The proposed concepts aggregate real-time energy consumption information, billing, savings tips, and social networking, using people-centred paradigms.
Experientia’s work recognises that people’s wants, needs, behaviours, contexts and motivations differ. To lead to real change, we need to go beyond the basics of real-time energy data and a cost-vs-convenience attitude, to a device that impacts people’s entire lifestyles, and supports a lower carbon footprint across all aspects of their daily activities.
We developed a framework as a guide when conceptualising which activities a smart meter should enable.
People need the ability to:
Currently, vendors are being screened and selected for the development of the smart meter.
Changing behaviour at a cultural level
While Experientia’s work concentrated strongly on personal behavioural change, our original Behavioural change framework highlighted the need for change to occur simultaneously in the physical, personal, social, and cultural spheres (see above). This last group includes commerce and politics: although in its early stages, the project has already introduced changes to laws and commercial practices in Finland.
A new fire code
Finland suffered great fires in the 19th century, resulting in a ban on urban timber construction projects. Recognising the low-carbon benefits of multi-storey timber construction in large scale, commercial projects , the Airut block reintroduces this, while utilizing concrete where most efficient. Capitalizing on Sitra’s position as a change agent in Finland, a new Fire Code was quickly developed and incorporated into the national building codes in April 2011. Timber frame constructions greater than 4 storeys are now allowed.
Extending the reach beyond the block
Airut aims to achieve early compliance with the EU’s 2020 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). As part of this, the team has worked with Helsingin Energia to develop a carbon neutral product that will also be available to other customers in Helsinki’s energy market. After negotiations, Helsingin Energia has agreed to provide a new, verifiable bio-energy product that will displace the fossil fuels that would otherwise be utilized for the block. More importantly, other consumers will now have the opportunity to significantly impact their carbon footprint.
From winning proposal, Airut is now becoming a reality. For Experientia, the first stages of project development have involved ethnographic research, participatory design and concept development of smart meters and services to reduce our carbon footprint.
Specific Experientia deliverables include:
Experientia Low2No presentation