Are people the problem or the solution? A critical look at the rise of the smart/intelligent building and the role of ICT enabled engagement.




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Peer reviewed



Almost 20% of the UK’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions arise from non-domestic buildings. Behaviour change initiatives could have a significant impact given current estimates that around 30% of energy in buildings is currently wasted. Most recently, the role of ICT and the digital economy has been championed as offering significant potential to contribute to carbon reduction targets within buildings. The creation of smart or intelligent buildings and increasingly sophisticated (and expensive) building energy management systems (BEMS) are viewed as step forward in cutting energy use by limiting the role of the building user. This paper takes a reflective stance in seeking to question the faith being placed in smart or intelligent buildings through asking, what role then for the building-user? The smart building approach appears to view the behaviour of users as a hurdle to overcome, rather than a resource to be utilized. At times it has had a narrow view of how technology and user-engagement can sit together. This paper suggests lessons can be learnt from other disciplines that champion the role of citizens and the benefits for user-engagement, participation and, increasingly, using digital technologies (such as smartphones and social media) to harness the co-creation of knowledge, collaboration and empowerment. A critical review of recent thinking in this area is presented before discussing the possible options available for organisations seeking to reduce the energy demand. Reflections are offered from a range of academic disciplines that shed light on the wider possibilities and opportunities digital technologies can offer for behaviour change and energy demand reduction in the non-domestic setting. For example, through enabling building users to both understand the environmental impact of their activities and to act in networks through social media applications of the digital technology.



behavioural change, bottom-up approach, public buildings, SMART buildings, digital economy


Bull, R., Irvine, K.N., Reiser, M and Fleming, P. (2013) Are people the problem or the solution? A critical look at the rise of the smart/intelligent building and the role of ICT enabled engagement.. ECEEE Summer Study Conference Proceedings 2013, pp. 1135-1145; 5A-079-13


Research Institute

Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD)