About Green Leap
Green Leap is a lab for design and sustainable transition at KTH. Our goal is to be a catalyst for change by engaging design in sustainable transitions. Since 2012 Green Leap has done radical experiments to enable and accelerate the transition to a sustainable society. In line with both established and experimental design methods we create prototypes (real life experiments or living labs) of the changes we would like to see and let people use this prototype in real life for a longer period. We also explore how our lived environment can be designed to integrate energy efficiency in everyday life both socially and aesthetically.
How we work: experimental design research for sustainable transitions
Technological development is not enough to bring about the systemic changes we need to meet the climate crisis. We also need to more quickly implement the technology and knowledge that already exists, and above all, we need to change our behavior. There is resistance and lock-ins at a number of levels that are difficult both to identify and to change. Radical systemic changes are socio-technical, i.e. they require changes in social practices, product and service systems, markets, norms, cultural meanings as well as in policy and regulations. How such system changes can take place is exactly what we investigate in practice through our design experiments in Green Leap. However, it requires a new view of what design is and can be used for.
The starting point has been to use the design process as a method to create prototypes of the societal changes we, according to the global goals, need to achieve. In line with the design process, we test an early model in reality, instead of trying to figure out what the perfect solution should look like (Sjöman and Hesselgren, 2020). We are also inspired by backcasting where you envisage a desirable goal and then investigate what steps need to be taken for this to become a reality (Ilstedt and Wangel 2014). The prototypes are used by people in their everyday lives for a long time, from a few months up to a year, and we follow up continuously with interviews, observations and surveys. Through this, we gain invaluable insights into people's experiences over a longer period of time. We see the challenges and problems they face, as well as positive experiences and benefits, but also unexpected consequences and solutions to these. Often, not only hindering norms and habits are made visible, but also goal conflicts and inadequate regulations and policies. These prototypes, or full-scale experiments, work on several different levels. Partly as a test of an idea in early phases of concept development, which provokes reactions and experiences that can be taken further in an iterative process. Partly as staging of a future sustainable lifestyle, which attracts attention and can inspire continued development and innovation.
A long test period is central to seeing how behaviors arise and change. Initially, most people feel that the change is unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and then it is easy to slip back to the old behavior. After a while, the change "settles", in the form of new, more sustainable everyday practices that gradually become normalized. Then you often begin to discover positive things and benefits that were not obvious in the beginning (Ilstedt and Sjöman, 2022). Many change projects only have one focus group that discusses a proposal, you may test something one day or at best a couple of weeks. This, we believe, is too short a time to really be able to see how a change affects everyday life.
In "CoKitchen" we built two experimental apartments on KTH Campus where 4-5 students lived for a year and followed up with interviews and shorter design interventions. The goal was to develop the sustainable student housing of the future. In "A car-free year" we removed the car from three families with children in Stockholm for a year and replaced it with light electric vehicles. We followed the families' experiences throughout the year with interviews and diaries. Their experiences formed the basis for a series of concepts for how the city can welcome car-free families with children (Hasselqvist and Hesselgren, 2016). In another project, a "Job Hub" was built in Botkyrka, as an opportunity for commuting Tullinge residents to work closer to home and get a simpler life puzzle, and also to create a more vibrant center. The experience led to two employers involved making changes to their operations, and the experiment with the job hub was extended for a year with funding from the municipality.
These experiments are part of the growing research area for the sustainable transition, which examines how we can accelerate the transition to a sustainable society. Frans Sengers and colleagues define sustainability transition experiments as "an inclusive, practice-based and challenge-led initiative, which is designed to promote system innovation through social learning under conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity" (Sengers et al., 2019).
Creating systemic changes for a sustainability transition is complex and involves a high degree of uncertainty. Technological development is not enough to bring about the systemic changes we need to meet the climate crisis.
We also need to more quickly implement the technology and knowledge that already exists, and above all, we need to change our behavior. There is resistance and lock-ins at a number of levels that are difficult both to identify and change. Radical systemic changes are socio-technical, i.e. they require changes in social practices, product and service systems, markets, norms, cultural meanings as well as in policy and regulations (Geels, 2004). How such system changes can take place is exactly what we investigate in practice through our design experiments. However, it requires a new view of what design is and can be used for. User-centered design has traditionally identified people's needs and conditions, and then designed products to suit them.
Now that we are faced with the challenge of changing our entire way of life, we can no longer aim to support people's lifestyles. We must aim to change them. Seeing practices as dynamic social constructs and needs as malleable and changeable offers a better starting point for design for sustainability transition (Shove et al., 2007). This shift from identifying needs, to understanding the dynamics of how needs are created and changed, represents a paradigm shift for design and is probably a prerequisite for the transition to a sustainable world. But it requires courage, stubbornness, new ethical choices, and that people's quality of life and social sustainability are as central as the ecological one.
Text by Sara Ilstedt
Geels, F. W. (2002). Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case-study. Research policy, 31(8-9), 1257-1274.
Ilstedt, S. Wangel, J. “Altering expectations: how design fiction and backcasting can leverage sustainable lifestyles” In proceedings of DRS 2014 Designs big debates. Umeå 2014
Ilstedt, S. Sjöman, M. “The value of being close - Social and ecological sustainability of co-living for students”, In the proceedings of DRS 2022, Bilbao, 2022
Hesselgren, M. Hasselqvist, H.” Giving car-free life a try: Designing seeds for changed practices” Proceedings of DRS 2016, Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference . Brighton, UK, 27–30 June 2016, 2016
Sengers, F. Wieczorek, A J. Raven, R. “Experimenting for sustainability transitions: A systematic literature review” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Volume 145, 2019, Pages 153-164, ISSN 0040-1625.
Shove, E., Watson, M., Ingram, J., & Hand, M. (2008). The design of everyday life. Oxford: Berg.
Sjöman, M., and Hesselgren, M. (2020) Designerly Living Labs: Early-stage exploration of future sustainable concepts, in Boess, S., Cheung, M. and Cain, R. (Eds.), Synergy - DRS International Conference, 11-14 August 2020. https://doi.org/10.21606/drs.2020.307