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Technology in Society xx (2005) 1–11 www.elsevier.com/locate/techsoc

Environmental psychology and sustainability in high-rise structures
Richard Wener a,*, Hannah Carmalt b
a

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Polytechnic University, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA b Rutgers University, 205 6th St, Apt 1, Hoboken, NJ 07030, USA

Abstract This paper addresses the human elements of sustainable design in urban high-rise buildings. While a number of technical developments have allowed for the minimization of resource consumption, little research has addressed the response of occupants to such facilities, or the degree to which success in reaching sustainability goals is dependent on user behavior. This paper reviews research in related areas and suggests ways in which social, psychological and behavioral issues may be important to sustainable design, as well as how ways attending to psychological needs can improve the success of meeting these and other goals. Social psychological and applied behavior analytical approaches are reviewed as ways to respond to conservation and recycling goals. The psychological and physiological benefits that green buildings confer on their occupants are also addressed, as are areas for future research, and steps that the building industry can take to develop more holistic and sustainable building practices that incorporate occupant behavioral needs. q 2006 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Keywords: Sustainable high-rises; Green buildings; Sustainable behavior; Productivity; Conservation behavior; Biophilia

1. Introduction Increasingly, developers are seeking to construct more sustainable buildings, including megastructures like the much anticipated redevelopment of the World Trade Center [1]. While there is increasing technological knowledge on how to accomplish this goal [2–4] there is still limited research on the relationship between these improvements and individual building users and occupants. Since social issues are essential components of sustainable development, it is

* Corresponding author. Tel.: C1 718 260 3585; fax: C1 718 260 3136 E-mail address: rwener@poly.edu (R. Wener).

0160-791X/$ - see front matter q 2006 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.techsoc.2005.10.016

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important to understand the relationship between technological advances in sustainable structures and the behaviors of, and impacts, on building users. The first recognized definition of sustainable development was offered by the Brundtland Commission in 1987 as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future” [5]. Sustainability was further conceptualized and expanded at the international Earth Summit conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, to integrate concerns for environmental, economic, and social well being. The focus of this paper is on sustainability in the context of the built environment with primary emphasis on consumption of physical resources, wherein a sustainable building is one that improves occupant health and performance, minimizes energy and material consumption, and stimulates a healthy ecosystem. There is limited research on human behavioral and social responses to issues of sustainability in buildings in general, and even less so for high-rise buildings, which for the purpose of this paper are limited to structures over 10 or more stories high [6]. Even so, trends over the last century suggest increased construction of such edifices. The world-wide phenomenon of migration from agricultural to urban communities [7] and increased awareness of environmental problems related to urban sprawl [8] provided the impetus for development of large scale urban projects. This tendency towards high-rise buildings is supported by technological advancements that have made their construction easier and less costly. Traditionally, high-rise buildings consume a great number of resources. These massive structures are dependent on large quantities of building materials during construction, require considerable amounts of energy to operate, and produce a great deal of waste when they reach the end of their life cycle and are demolished. Over 75% of the energy consumption in high-rise buildings is allocated for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) [6, p. 200]. In the past, the low cost of energy and technological advancements in lighting and HVAC have discouraged architects and building engineers from making more use of passive temperature control devices, such as operable windows and shading techniques. But current concerns about the rising cost of energy, limits on availability of potable water, and awareness of problems with material use and waste disposal are likely to influence designers to incorporate more sustainable elements into high-rise structures. While there is increasing attention paid to sustainable building techniques, there has been relatively little discussion about the psychological and behavioral aspects of sustainability and how people interact with these structures. This paper will discuss social, psychological and behavioral issues that need to be addressed in high-rise facility management, as well as the potential for sustainable buildings to ameliorate some of the problems in those areas traditionally associated with high-rise buildings. It concludes by identifying future research topics and steps that the building industry can use to develop more holistic and sustainable building practices. 2. Behavioral needs in sustainable buildings Some of the oft-cited ecological benefits of green buildings are dependent on the ability to correctly predict user behavior. All occupied buildings are designed around explicit or implicit assumptions about user behaviors, decisions and responses. From an environmental psychological perspective, buildings are physical forms that, in Bechtel’s terms, ‘enclose behavior’. That is, buildings provide facilities and shelter from the elements to support human activities. They are designed to provide for human behavior, psychological, and social needs. Whether or not they are successful depends in large part on the degree to which designers accurately understand and predict what activities are required and likely to occur, and their

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ability to use this knowledge to create space and facilities to support their predictions. If the space is to be used as a school, it must support likely class size, acoustical and lighting requirements, different teaching styles, private student-teacher discussions, staff meetings, etc. If it is a factory, it must provide space for manufacturing equipment and processes, but also attend to acoustic and lighting needs, facilities for employee meetings, breaks, and meals. When engineers are determining the required technical performance and size of building systems, they must make reasonable estimates of factors such as how much energy and water will be consumed, and how much liquid and solid waste will be produced. These are, in large part, behavioral issues since human activity shapes the use of these resources and therefore the costs involved and level of savings possible due to conservation. Occupants make behavioral choices that affect these systems, such as when to maximize their personal comfort by adjusting thermostats, lowering or raising blinds and drapes, and opening or closing windows. Behavioral decisions are involved in such actions as the amount of water used washing dishes, the length of showers, whether or not to consume recycled water, what products (and packaging) to purchase and how and whether to recycle. These choices by residents can be critical in determining how well and efficiently building systems perform. ‘Green’ buildings are typically planned to be especially efficient in these respects, but there are as yet not enough anecdotal experiences or formal evaluations of sustainable high-rise buildings to determine how effectively they respond to variations in human needs. Environmental impact projections of a sustainable building may be based on expectations of significant levels of energy and water conservation and recycling participation, demanding very careful use of building systems by tenants. Such a facility might be very sensitive to variability of user behavior and could suffer greatly if the actual usage varied significantly from that predicted in the planning stages. If tenants were unwilling or unable to conform to high standards, such as turning down thermostats in the winter, taking brief showers, or buying minimally packaged products, the building’s performance could fall well below predictions. One reason passive solar designs did not become more widely used by the end of the 20th century may be the perceived demands they made on occupant time and effort [9,10]. The sensitivity of building performance to occupant behavior is exemplified in the study of a green factory building in Michigan [11]. The building was found to be operating sub-optimally in several respects. For example, energy consumption was higher than expected, in part because workers kept large bay doors open for the fresh air and for the views that these doors provided. While the original design had allowed for better ventilation and good views, high shelving was added after initial occupancy that blocked the vents and views, encouraging occupants to open the bay doors. In some cases, sustainable buildings might be less sensitive to variations in user activity, if, for instance, they relied on heavy insulation or smart technology that controls lighting, temperature, and windows to save energy. Such a building might be called sustainably robust if it was able to withstand significant variations in behavior and still maintain optimal performance. The sensitivity, or robustness, of the building in responding to user behavior may be an important dimension in determining the ability of a sustainable structure to meet its goals throughout its operational lifetime. It is also unclear at this point what level of knowledge or training might be required of tenants in sustainable buildings. Will building systems in these facilities be complex, technical, and require careful monitoring and maintenance? Or will they be, in the language of marketing, ‘carefree and automatic’. These are important questions for future research.

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The potential for sustainable buildings to perform efficiently depends in some measure upon response to conservation technologies. For example, even if builders install low-flow showerheads, water consumption may remain high if users bathe for an extremely long period of time. Similarly, early generation low-flow toilets did not always result in the expected water savings because of public perceptions of problems with their use [12]. Response to (and success with) later generation low-flow toilets seems to be better [13]. Increasingly, developers are integrating recycled water into their buildings. Various strategies for conserving water have been developed which involve recycling of ‘grey water’ (domestic water from sinks, washing machines or bath water) or ‘black water’ (water containing human, animal or food waste), and here, psychological- and culturally-based responses may be particularly important. The success of these measures is significantly dependent on user perceptions and response. What remains most controversial is the use of recycled water for drinking purposes (the so-called ‘yuck’ factor) [14]. Some of this hesitancy is due to unclear scientific knowledge of its long-term safety as part of the drinking supply. Scientific uncertainty is due to potential hazards from microcontaminates that are not currently monitored in wastewater effluent [15]. Results from a survey conducted in Australia on recycled water users and suppliers show that individuals are concerned about water reuse because of microbiological components, salinity, aggregate components such as pH, nutrients, organic components, and varying quality [16]. The majority of water recycling projects incorporate grey water usage into lawn care or toilet flushing water [17]. One example is the Oakland’s East Bayshore Recycled Water Project. This program will supply 2.5 million gallons of recycled water per day to industries, businesses, and residents across the area for use in irrigation, toilet flushing, wetlands restoration, and industrial uses [18]. As part of this project, a new high-rise was built with a dual pipe system that allows 20,000 gallons of recycled water provided by the utility district to be used in the toilets throughout the building [18]. While this type of water recycling is typically accepted by the general public, some users do express fear of unknown problems and potential negative impacts on children [19]. These uncertainties can be mitigated through increased public outreach, organizational commitment, and well-managed information, decision making, and trust [20]. In some respects, water recycling is not new since communities have long drawn on each other’s water resources. For example, New Orleans gets its drinking water from the Mississippi River and claims that this water has already been used seven times before it is accessed by the City. It may be, then, that acceptance of recycled drinking water must rely on public awareness campaigns as well as the implementation of adequate technologies to address potential contaminates. Some water utility officials believe that negative public perceptions of recycled drinking water will change in time [21] but further application of social psychological research may be useful in easing these transitions. 3. Promoting sustainable behaviors Many of the behavioral issues encompassing sustainable design have been addressed in existing research on the impact of human behavior on energy and water conservation, and on recycling that was spurred by the 1970 s energy crisis [22]. Sustainable buildings may differ from these earlier conservation strategies in the way that many or all of these issues are addressed collectively to try and create a ‘no-impact’ building. There is, as yet, little experience to indicate whether user responses are different when addressing many or all of these issues at once.

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Psychological research on conservation issues has taken two broad approaches: social psychological studies, which focus on attempts to understand and change attitudes; and applied behavioral analyses, which assess critical behavioral contingencies. Attempts to change or strengthen pro-environmental attitudes are often based on the intuitive notion that attitudes underlie behavior, and, therefore, by changing the former, the latter will follow. While this seems logical, it is not necessarily supported by research. Social psychological studies over many decades have shown that there is often little correspondence between attitudes and behaviors and that in some cases attitudes follow behavior changes rather than preceding them [23–27]. There is some evidence that conservation education can be effective [28], although more studies have shown no effect or a very weak one [27]. On the other hand, there are studies that suggest that strategies which attempt to elicit a public and personal commitment to a specific pro-environmental action from people can lead to significant and even lasting change [27]. As Stern [25] points out, the relationship between environmental attitudes and behavior may not be a simple one. The behaviors in question, he notes, typically “lie at the end of a long causal chain involving a variety of personal and contextual factors,” [25, p. 525] such as social and demographic factors, incentives and constraints, values, knowledge, and commitment. Changing any one element may not be sufficient to effect behavioral change. For effective policy change it may be necessary to assess and address the specific situational barriers that inhibit change, as demonstrated by McKenzie-Mohr [29] who used a combination of psychological approaches and marketing strategies to reduce water consumption. Studies using applied behavioral analysis to induce greater conservation behavior focus on antecedents (events that precede and cue or prompt the actual target behavior), and consequences (the reinforcing or punishing results of a behavior that determines its likelihood of being repeated) [22]. Applied behavioral analysis of energy use by consumers suggests that the nature of both the antecedent and consequent conditions in most homes and work settings often unintentionally promote greater energy use while discouraging conservation behavior. A key tenet of behavior theory is that the consequences of a behavior need to be immediate in order to be effective. It is interesting to note, then, that almost all the events that might discourage energy use appear after a significant and sometimes very long delay. The major event that constrains a homeowner from turning up the level of air conditioning in the summer or the heat in the winter, for instance, is the cost of energy which is typically presented in the form of a bill arriving days or weeks after the thermostat is adjusted. Even though the actual payment for energy use is much delayed, visible reminders of the costs might still affect behavior. Unfortunately, there exist few obvious cues or signals in most offices or residential settings that might serve to remind occupants of the costs of energy and prompt them to conserve. Information regarding the costs of energy is largely out of sight. Nothing is present to tell someone who is about to turn on an air conditioner what the monetary or environmental impact of that behavior is likely to be, or how cost is accruing in real time. There are few signs or signals prompting people to be moderate in such use, or instructing them how to use energy more conservatively. The single device in most buildings that provides that kind of information is the electric or gas meter, but that is usually located in an out-of-the-way place and is difficult for the layperson to read. On the other hand, prompts that support the use of energy (information that reminds an individual that a device is available that can be turned on or up to deliver some level of comfort or pleasure) are all around. These include the appliances and devices themselves, such as televisions or refrigerators, and the heating or cooling controls, such as the thermostat, all of

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which are conveniently located and designed for the lay person to understand and use (video recording devices not withstanding). A strategy for behavioral change that has evolved from these analyses is to provide prompts for conservation at the behavioral decision point. Signs suggesting turning off room lights can be very effective when they are visible to users as they are exiting from the room [30]. Other approaches have provided information about the consequences of energy consumption at the point of use. Becker and Seligman [31] placed a light in the kitchen that went on when the air conditioner was operating but outside temperatures were cool. Others have offered residents daily written information on the amount of electricity used or installed prominently placed and easy to read meters that show energy costs in real-time [32]. Evaluations have suggested that these techniques may result in a significant reduction of overall energy use or during peak time use [22]. In some cases, consumer behavior and its consequences are particularly disconnected such as in large residential or office complexes where those who pay the energy bills are not the ones controlling energy use. Tenants whose estimated utility costs are included in the monthly rental fee have no monetary incentive to be efficient in their energy and water use. Why not leave the air conditioner on or take a long shower, when the only possible negative financial impact will come months or years later when the new lease is negotiated? These ‘master-metering’ systems are provided by utility companies as a way to save construction, wiring and equipment costs, and reduce meter reading time, but the negative consequences for conservation efforts may be significant. Studies indicate that important savings in energy or water consumption are produced by installing sub-meters that directly monitor individual gas, electric or water costs [33]. Sustainable high-rise buildings will need to be designed to incorporate these kinds of controls at point of use in order to encourage conservation behaviors. 4. Psychological benefits of green buildings Traditional high-rise buildings have been criticized for separating their occupants from the natural environment. One post-occupancy evaluation of a high-rise structure found that the primary concerns of tenants were the lack of greenery and their sense of disconnection from the outside [34]. Occupants who were interviewed asked that planners make attempts to bring the outside into the structure with increased use of plants and natural light. Nichols [35] also found that occupants rated views of the outside extremely important. A lack of view was related to a feeling of enclosure, and occupants on higher floors had greater feelings of separation from the outside. There is increasing theoretical and empirical support for beliefs that such separation may have significant negative physiological, social, behavioral, and health effects [36]. Wilson [37] suggests that humans have an innate need for contact with the natural world and in particular seek to occupy and recreate in settings that are similar to those from our evolutionary past. Kaplan’s [38] attention restoration theory (ART) posits that natural settings provide an easy fascination that can help people recover from the mental fatigue caused by the more effortful attention often required by work. Ulrich [39] reviews studies supporting hypotheses that humans have innate negative (biophobic) and positive (biophilic) associations with various elements of the natural world. There are recent several studies demonstrating that spending time in natural settings can have positive psychological effects [40]. Kuo and Sullivan [41] have extended these findings by showing that the presence of vegetation in public housing sites is significantly associated with

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reduced levels of aggressiveness and crime. Incorporating natural features, such as daylighting, into buildings also seems to affect emotional well-being. An evaluation of daylighting in schools showed that students in daylit classrooms were happier than those with minimal daylighting in the room [42]. Businesses have also found improved employee emotional well-being in sustainable buildings. Thirty percent of employees from a furniture manufacturing company who were surveyed indicated that their new, green building was better for social well-being [11]. Significant health improvements in buildings with more natural settings have also been documented. Ulrich’s [43] well-known study of hospital design found that views of nature reduced stress and positively affected recovery from illness. This study is supported by others that indicate providing nature views can reduce stress, aggressiveness, mental fatigue, and improve well-being [39]. Improving air quality, of course, can also support health. Fisk et al. [44] suggested that 16–37 million cases of colds and flu could be avoided by improving indoor environmental quality, resulting in $6–$14 billion annual savings in the United States. The symptoms of sick building syndrome might also be reduced 20–50%, resulting in $10–$30 billion annual savings in the United States (given in 1996 dollars; [45,46]). Similarly, people seem to experience more headaches, dizziness, and tiredness when toxic materials are present [47,48]. Thus, the potential for sustainable buildings to improve occupant health by creating more natural environments that help improve air quality inside the building may be significant. Finally, there is evidence indicating a relationship between green buildings and productivity, much of which was summarized by a Rocky Mountain Institute study documenting eight businesses which saw productivity increases following the implementation of energy-efficient building techniques [49]. For example, Lockheed Martin saw a 15% increase in productivity, West Bend Mutual claimed a 16% increase in productivity, and Wal-Mart found its sales increased by installing skylights into one of their new stores. Another review [50] concludes that providing ‘green’ environments (good air, lighting, natural views, thermal comfort) can significantly increase satisfaction, reduce absenteeism, and improve productivity. A metaanalysis by Kats et al. [51] for California’s Sustainable Building Taskforce suggested that there is indeed evidence for a positive effect of green building elements on productivity, although it may be much smaller than the estimated 16%.1 Even improvements on the order of 1%, however, could exceed a firm’s yearly energy bills [49]. Sustainable high-rise buildings have a unique opportunity to incorporate biophilic elements into the confines of a traditional high-rise building. By including increased daylighting, appropriate ventilation, use of non-toxic materials, views to natural landscapes, and vegetation inside the building, occupant health and performance can improve [50]. All of these elements should be part of sustainable design techniques because they lower energy demands, improve air quality, and/or reduce dependency on toxic materials.

5. Conclusion From this brief review it is clear that the behavior of residents and tenants of a sustainable facility is likely to play a significant role in determining the degree to which the building
1 Kats [51] found productivity to increase on the order of 1–1.5% in LEED—Silver, Gold, and Platinum buildings. These different types of buildings denote how the US Green Building Council defines the environmental and energy efficiency of a structure with Platinum buildings having the least impact.

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succeeds in meeting its goals of reduced impact on the environment and resources, although, the precise level of impact needs attention in future research. It is incumbent on planners to create the systems and policies that make it easy for people to engage in conservation and recycling; they are designing for human behavior as well as for physical and engineering systems. A number of questions remain concerning sustainable design and occupant behavior: What kinds of behaviors are expected and/or required of residents in a sustainable skyscraper? How ‘sustainably robust’ are technologies? How much behavior change is tolerated before a building falls below its stated sustainability goals? How does living in this kind of setting differ from life in low-rise and/or traditional high-rise buildings? It is also unclear what level of knowledge or training might be required of tenants in sustainable buildings. Will building systems in these facilities be complex, technical, and require careful monitoring and maintenance, or will they be ‘carefree and automatic’? These questions all need to be addressed by applied environmentbehavior studies. Mega-structures may have certain advantages of centralization and economies of scale, but they come with built-in challenges with respect to the social and psychological needs of building users. People within mega-structures lose an element of personal control over their life conditions and safety. Once inside these buildings, occupants become significantly dependent on technology for air, light, and even the shortest of trips. Moreover, as discussed, the larger the structure, the more those in it are disengaged from natural elements. There is increasing evidence that such separation has negative consequences for psychological states and behavior resulting in poor health and productivity loss. The green skyscraper, by contrast, has the potential to improve upon this situation by addressing all of these issues. It can approach zero-impact in part by giving control back to the individual and by being designed to support basic behavioral needs. It can help repair the lost connection with nature that most high-rise occupants suffer by providing greater access to and contact with natural elements in the form of vegetation, daylighting, appropriate ventilation, non-toxic materials, and views to the outside. Based on the research and the discussion above, then, how can designers use behavioral and psychological information to create a more holistic approach to a sustainable[52] high-rise design? The following steps may be appropriate: 1. Architects and building managers should develop strategies designed to maximize targets and commitment levels from groups and individuals in determining desired levels of electricity use, water use, recycling, etc. There should be initial and ongoing efforts to provide specific and relevant information that will aid and educate occupants on how to achieve those goals. 2. Energy, water, and waste systems in the building should be designed to directly connect costs to individual behaviors. For example, energy and water systems should be sub-metered so that individuals who set and effect energy and water use directly pay the bills. Similar approaches may be possible for recycling and waste pickup. 3. There should be prompts for conservation and feedback on usage wherever possible and these should be considered at all phases of design and as a part of management policy. Given the omnipresence of telecommunications technology it may be possible and cost effective to provide each tenant with real-time, intelligible read-outs of electrical, gas, and water usage available on their computer or cell phone. 4. The building should be designed to maximize the individual’s ability to control his or her environment; to make it possible to modify and adapt to specific conditions (i.e. open a

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window on a nice day), which will increase comfort and satisfaction, and reduce stress. Optimal design would give occupants the ability to travel one or several floors without having to wait for an elevator. 5. The use of recycled grey or black water may be a reasonable option, but planners need to work to assuage potential anxieties in this area and potential threats from unmonitored contaminates currently found in drinking water. 6. Planners should look for ways to reward sustainable consumer decisions, such as by encouraging the purchase of energy-efficient appliances and consumer products with lowimpact packaging, and by supporting access to public transportation. 7. Architects should try to redress the separation from the natural environment commonly experienced by occupants of traditional mega-structures. This can be accomplished by providing easy and multiple options to access daylight and vegetation without having to leave the building, providing increased ventilation to the outside air and decreased presence of toxic materials, and by maximizing access to window light and views. Planners should seek opportunities to give occupants control over the internal environment (temperature, air flow, lighting) wherever possible to increase comfort, satisfaction, and productivity and allow flexibility in meeting fluctuating local conditions.

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Richard Wener is Associate Professor of Environmental Psychology at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, NY. He has served as President of the Division of Environmental and Population Psychology of the American Psychological Association and has been a member of the board of directors of the Environmental Design Research Association. He received the Association’s award for distinguished service to the field of environment and behavior in 1995. He has also served on the editorial boards of Environment and Behavior, the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, and the Journal of Environmental Systems.

Hannah Carmalt received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Tulane University in environmental studies and sociology. While always interested in environmental concerns, she has recently focused on green building issues and their implications on urban form as well as human health and productivity. Most recently, she earned a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in May 2005. As part of her program, she focused on the development of sustainable cities, as well as issues relating to green buildings, specifically indoor air quality.

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