Eco-Conscious Consumer Psyche
Savvy consumers are lovers of stuff – sleek gadgets, iconic furniture pieces and chic abodes. Consumption is based on what their pocketbooks allow and dictated by trends, product availability and technological innovation. More and more, consumers are becoming eco-conscious as they opt for green alternatives – purchasing energy-star rated, efficient appliances, organic threads and locally grown foods.
From a design perspective, what is bought is often less important than how and why consumers choose to buy what they do. What, where, and how people buy makes a statement about their identity and the type of person they are, or would like to be. Contrary to popular belief, most of us don’t weigh the full costs and benefits of our purchasing decisions. Instead, we are strongly influenced by emotional factors, the behavior of others and our own habits – tending to not use all of the information available. The undeniable fact is that impulse buys make up nearly 75 percent of today’s consumer spending where a purchase serves far more than just a functional need.
At EDSA we challenge you to join us in creating a smarter, more sustainable world. Based on an increasing emotional desire to make eco-friendly purchasing decisions, how can we make more informed decisions to live a greener lifestyle?
Start by calculating your Ecological Footprint using http://www.earthday.org/footprint-calculator or a similar assessment tool. The result is a rough estimate of resources expended in relation to the biological capacity of the planet. These results are largely based on the products we consume, our behaviors surrounding these products and the spaces we inhabit. Let’s all work to reduce our impact and educate others on protecting the planet.
Change is not about modifying needs, it’s about adjusting values. Do you believe in recycling, but throw away used appliances and electronics? Buy organic produce but let food go to waste by not eating leftovers? Passionate about saving resources, but don’t cut down on driving? Carry a cloth bag to the grocery store, but fill it with disposable, overly packaged products? We must all make a commitment to practice what we preach, lead by example and encourage cohorts to do the same. Here are our top suggestions to get the ball rolling:
- There is a tendency to limit product lifecycles and unnecessarily replace items we consume (i.e., refrigerators, vacuums and home furnishings). Taking time to maintain possessions is always more efficient than consuming an entirely new product.
- While we’re busy surfing the web, listening to our ipods and twittering away, it’s all too easy to lose track of the energy these devices consume. Pull the plug on gear not currently in use. Computer adapters, appliances and even cell phone chargers constantly suck up energy so long as they remain plugged in.
- Don’t complacently rely on technology. Energy efficient appliances will not scold you for running the dishwasher when it’s half full. Your LEED certified home will not prevent you from keeping your thermostat at 80 degrees in the winter and 55 in the summer. You have to do these things yourself.
- Cut down on commute times by choosing to move closer to employment or offer telecommuting to employees. Seek out teleconferences rather than attending in person. Downsize your vehicle and use mass transit whenever possible. And, don’t forget to bike, walk and use human power to propel you where you need to go, whenever possible.
- Since the 1970s’ the average American home has grown by more than 500 square feet, while the average family size has decreased. This incongruity should signal that our want for space has surpassed our needs. Consider how well you can live by living small. Design spaces to be multifunctional, de-clutter and tear down walls to let in natural light.
The need to conserve natural resources is not a temporary situation and therefore demands lasting changes in how we live, work and play. It’s time to make a difference regarding our personal dependence on energy and natural resources. We encourage you to share these environmental values by emphasizing the importance of action to those around you.
Healthy Lifestyle Design
Everyone agrees that eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly and effectively coping with stress is beneficial to the body and mind. But pause to consider, that links between the health of our global population and health of the environment are also undeniable. In the United States, life expectancy has increased by approximately 40 years since 1900. Only seven of those years can be attributed to improvements in disease care while the rest are the result of improved prevention efforts (such as immunizations) and improved environmental conditions.
By definition, the our environment includes all that is external to us as individuals – the air we breathe, the water we drink and use, the land and built structures that surround us – in essence, all natural and human-formed conditions. Simply put, the way we design and build our communities also affects our physical and mental health.
Supporting this theory is a recent report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that describes a healthy community as one that continuously creates and improves both its physical and social environments by helping people support one another in all aspects of daily life. We can therefore conclude that design plays a pivotal role in creating and fostering quality of life where people can live, work, worship, learn and play and are free to make choices amid a variety of healthy, available, accessible and affordable options.
We have seen first-hand the profound influence environment can have on public-health, as noted in some of our healing gardens and hospital work. We know and understand how comfort, natural light, clear circulation patterns, views to the outside, access to well-conceived landscapes and a relaxing atmosphere promotes patient healing. In parallel, people who live near parks and public open space tend to be more physically active. Related studies confirm that older urban residents live longer if they have places to walk, tree-lined streets and access to parks.
Lifestyle-based design integrates health strategies into housing, urban development, land use, transportation, industry, recreation and food source/agriculture decisions. These decisions in turn influence neighborhood configuration, housing design, parks, location of stores and schools and residual factors such as traffic density and air/water quality. For today and for the future, health must be an explicit component of planning.
Decisions about development density, mix of uses, architectural massing, access to food sources and physical connectivity affect peoples’ physical health and psychological well-being. In well-designed communities, the overall social fabric is strengthened by connecting people to means of livelihood, education, recreation, culture and other resources. Integrated natural areas can further bolster a sense of community by drawing people together and enhancing social connections.
At EDSA, we continue to refine the definition of healthy lifestyle as related to ‘next’ practices in our planning and design work. We view very assignment as an opportunity to combine past experience with today’s leading applications in the creation of healthy and sustainable living environments.
Adventure Based Travel
Tourism is a powerful industry, one with the influence to transform economies around the world. So it’s only natural that sub-sectors develop and evolve within the tourism platform. Gaining strength and growing in prominence is adventure tourism. According to a George Washington University study, conducted in partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), consumers spent more than $89 billion worldwide on adventure travel in 2012 and it is expected to continue growing at about 16% every year.
One reason for this change is a global, cultural shift toward people wanting more transformative experiences. Explorative and innovative travel, community engagement and “dialing down the bling” are all part of the latest trends. Cementing this sector’s mainstream appeal is campaigns like Tourism Queensland, who teamed with pop culture figure Oprah Winfrey to market Australian tourism. Similarly, shows based on the evolution of expedition-discovery, like The Amazing Race, Survivor and the National Geographic Channel, have all played a role in creating a market for this category.
The momentum for adventure tourism revolves around a desire by participants to step outside their comfort zones and see the world in a new way. Its broad base includes not only those that seek physical challenge and risk, but also those looking for intellectual, spiritual and emotional adventures. The common thread of adventure-based travel is empowerment of travelers to awaken to, and ultimately transform their lives through a physical activity, cultural exchange or engagement with nature.
In its most traditional form, adventure travel is typically grouped into either "hard" or "soft" adventures. Hard adventures involve some kind of extreme sporting activity: paragliding, rock climbing, surfing, spelunking or scuba diving in remote and exotic locations. Soft adventures are leisurely and entail less strenuous activities where the focus is often on education. Activities such as archeological tours, culinary or wine classes, bird watching, canoeing, fishing and horseback riding all fall within these parameters.
However, the most significant finding in recent studies by the ATTA is the emergence of cerebral pursuits, consisting of adventures that don’t necessarily involve high levels of risk, challenge or physical fitness. Instead, they rely more on immersion and discovery such as historic exploration, volunteer tourism and religious pilgrimages, where cultural and environmentally sustainable activities are top priority and travelers have the opportunity to get personal with the local population. These first-hand experiences tend to leave powerful and lasting impressions, often inspiring thoughtful and helpful action.
Whether hard, soft or cerebral, adventure travel is gaining favor because it involves healthy-physical activities, allows for a deeper cultural exchange and an appreciation for the fragility of places. It is also more often viewed as a “guilt-free” holiday option given that money spent can penetrate more deeply into communities and contribute to local economies. In this vein, adventure travel focuses on a “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profit.
The tourism industry is quickly learning that consumers are becoming increasingly savvy and better able to identify the needs and activities to achieve their personal goals. Adventure industry providers, hoteliers and communities must create and market a broader range of products, refine current services and continually explore the preferences of target audiences to maintain and gain a competitive edge.
Stormwater As An Amenity
eReach Issue #5
There are few elements as essential to life as water. As a significant commodity in both natural and created settings, water provides a diverse range of aesthetic and recreational opportunities for new developments. Its sound, motion and cooling effect have universal appeal. It connotes refreshment and stimulates verdant growth. With its playful and therapeutic qualities, water is a resource we are forever trying to preserve, conserve, clean and reuse. Given the increasing emphasis on environmentally sensitive approaches to living, working and playing, water has become a critical, central resource in the design and planning of environments around the world. It is therefore a particularly pertinent time to employ new modes of thinking and practices that will change our relationship with this natural resource.
The need for creative thinking about water capture, diversion and reuse has accelerated as land consumption increases along with corresponding storm water run-off volumes. As such, opportunities are present for storm water systems’ design to transform from conventional solutions and thought of as a clear value-added component of good site design. On-site stormwater treatment systems can be designed in such a way as to create site amenities; that is, the rainwater itself becomes a feature – engaging, educating, and even entertaining visitors. Addressed as an amenity, a useful strategy for storm water management is to “start at the source”.
At EDSA, we are combining place-based aquatic design with environmental stewardship for stormwater systems design by employing techniques that focus on non-point source pollution, water balance and small storm hydrology. Design elements and treatment methods such as bio-retention, vegetated swales and rain-garden systems address stormwater management while adding distinct amenity value to projects. For example, beautifully designed retention ponds have long been recognized by developers and communities for their visual and recreational value. By providing conditions that are favorable for interacting with stormwater treatment systems, guests, residents and visitors can find the water-based features relaxing, amusing, refreshing and educational.
Numerous opportunities exist for artful rainwater management integration to contribute to the quality of landscapes. A rich aesthetic can be created through the combination of forms, colors and sounds that provide visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory experiences by contrasting natural and built elements through a variety of aquatic rhythms of water related hardscape and plant material. By using water collection basins as features and focal points, people experience stormwater in different forms such as flowing, falling, splashing, standing and sheeting as a means of making green infrastructure visible. Interaction can be achieved through effective and strategically placed seating or viewsheds for those strolling or biking on well-placed paths. Downspouts, runnels and flumes draw attention to the line of the stormwater trail enhancing legibility as well as interest and curiosity. Overlooks, destination points, seat walls and off-site trail systems promote physical exploration that balance perception of safety with adventure.
Dealing with runoff strategically and effectively is of paramount importance to property owners and developers both financially and aesthetically. Now more than ever, it is imperative to integrate stormwater improvements into the surrounding community fabric as part of a socially and ecologically responsible development.
Today’s complex environment requires that we constantly readjust our mindsets by responding appropriately to changes as they occur. As problem solvers, this is where design thinking and innovation play a significant role. It’s about grasping incremental changes in technology, science and society and converting those changes into ideas, concepts and ultimately places that get people excited. It’s not about saying yes to everything. It's about saying no to all but the most crucial of elements.
At EDSA we view innovation as shaping positive change. One could say increasing the lifespan of a battery or the ability to convert refuse to a new energy source is positive change. But on the most basic level, innovation begins by simply identifying a problem and seeing an opportunity. In this context, innovation drives our approach to creating a sustainable future.
Sustainability is a fundamental part of the challenges that face every industry today. Planning and design are at the forefront of resolving how the need to consume can be offset with the need to be good stewards of our planet. It’s about addressing and resolving how businesses can deliver a superior experience while reducing waste and carbon footprint. In the long-term, solutions must be ambitious and feasible for implementation. Otherwise, the potential benefits are limited.
While our design philosophy has evolved over several decades, it has always been based on a human-centered approach. As design innovators, we first examine who we are designing for, then formulate an appropriate, yet fresh and creative design solution. Finally, we explore new methods of implementation. The resulting measure of success is directly related to the value it brings real users in their everyday lives.
Take a look at any of the top global brands – consider Coca-Cola, Apple, and GE, among others. It's no accident that many of them are also considered design leaders. Design is a fundamental part of creating an image and experience of luxury, exclusivity and belonging. We believe that design thinking must begin with empathy and that the major context for any innovative effort lies in understanding the needs of your user.
The most effective means to garner an understanding is through direct observation. Rather than simply listening, it is important to observe what, why and how people are actually doing things. How are they using and enjoying the spaces you have in existence? This direct correlation develops a point of view and provides inspiration for ideas. Why? Because it assumes that the people who will ultimately become the idea’s users are always central to how it is developed.
In turn, design thinking must not only synthesize functionality and aesthetics, it must represent thought processes and emotions. Design innovation means no longer designing previously specified programs, but deciding what processes, products and/or systems are needed for the users. The underlying premise is that people don’t just buy utility, they buy emotion and symbol. For the average person, choices are made by balancing the need for evolution with the force of habit. Finding the proper symmetry, well, that’s the essence of innovation.
Leading companies are in touch with their own humanity and the humanity of others. They listen to consumers, employees and investors and respond to the messages they receive. They want to know how people really feel, they gather input and use it to drive innovation and they realize that there is a lot to be learned from the wisdom of crowds. Likewise, great designers create value by exploring without limitation. They assemble teams of individuals who see the world through different eyes and ascertain what should be as opposed to what is. They show discipline in doing more with less. By combining forces, we can create new business opportunities and pathways to manifest consumer needs, emotions and aspirations.