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Educate the User

Studies have shown that for many products the greatest environmental impact occurs at the USE phase for e.g. roughly 75%-95% of all the environmental impact of a washing machine comes from its use.  How a product is used can, in some cases, determine the extent of these impacts.  Designers can influence user behaviour through:

  • Technological innovations
  • Product-led interventions

Technological innovation:

  • environmental impacts resulting from product use can be reduced through technological innovation if designers provide the user with options to reduce their energy consumption
    • e.g. washing machines with half load facility or AA energy
    • rated 40o wash cycles which consume a third less energy than washing at 60 (Energy Saving Trust, 2005)
  • however, the success of these innovations often depends on whether or not users choose to use those particular features in the way the designer intended
  • consumers often fail to behave in the way designers expect:
    • in the case of the washing machine for e.g.,  the user can sidestep the designers intention to save energy by opting for a 90o quick wash cycle
  • designers can anticipate and design around unexpected user behaviour by investigating ‘actual’ versus ‘assumed’ behaviours –

Product-led intervention:

  • product-led interventions to educate the user and encourage him/her to behave in a more environmental aware way by using the product as a ‘message carrier’ 
  • the following section forms a brief introduction to each method:

    • Eco-feedback: mechanisms which provide users with information on the environmental impact of their activities in order to persuade them to change their behaviour.

    • Behaviour Steering: the use of ‘scripts’ which encourage users to behave in predetermined ways as prescribed by the designer
      • ‘scripts’ work by enabling desirable behaviours and blocking undesirable behaviours. 

    • Intelligent products and systems – products or systems which mitigate or block undesirable behaviour automatically without the knowledge or co-operation of the user.
      • to understand how an intelligent system works visit the Miele oven case study

PhD research in this area is currently being undertaken -  for more detailed information visit the product-led intervention for sustainable use section or visit:


DEFRA (2002) 'Are you doing your bit?' UK.

Energy Saving Trust (accessed 2005) 'Energy saving washing machines use a third less energy'

For More Information

For more information refer to:

Lilley. D, Lofthouse. V A, and Bhamra. T (2005) 'Investigating Product Driven Sustainable Use' in: Sustainable Innovation 05, Global 'state of the art' in sustainable product/service development and design, 10th International Conference, 24th – 25th October 2005. Farnham Castle International Briefing and Conference Centre, UK

Jelsma, J. and Knot. M (2002) Designing environmentally efficient services; a 'script' approach in: The Journal of Sustainable Product Design, Vol. 2, pp. 119-130.

Verbeek, P.P. and Kockelkoren P., Matter Matters, in: E. Van Hinte (ed.) (1997) Eternally Yours: Visions on Product Endurance, 010 Publishers, Rotherdam, pp. 101-115.