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Five Technology Adoption Attributes Could Help Long-Term Adoption, Effectiveness

Five Technology Adoption Attributes Could Help Long-Term Adoption, Effectiveness

From ASHRAE Journal Newsletter, August 22, 2107

By Mary Kate McGowan, Associate Editor, News

Designing an energy-efficient, “green” system or building is one thing. Implementing systems the occupants understand and can use over the long term is another.  

If a building owner and occupants understand and can properly operate a system, the system’s longevity increases, which also increases its effectiveness, said Joy Altwies, Ph.D., P.E., Member ASHRAE.

To help professionals increase green building use and long-term sustainability goals, Altwies recommends five technology adoption attributes that can help guide engineers and architects better understand their client’s point of view, so they can design and implement energy-efficient elements that people are more likely to adopt and continue using.

“Sometimes we design the most beautiful, efficient, wonderful systems, but they may not be the right choice for that particular owner or user. In that situation, you’re pretty much dead from the start, and you don’t even know it,” said Altwies, the research subcommittee chair and secretary for TC 2.8, Building Environmental Impacts and Sustainability.

Based on agriculturalist Everett Rogers’ “Diffusion of Innovations,” the five attributes—relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability and observability—can be applied to the engineering profession, said Altwies, a faculty associate and program director at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

“When you hear those five things, it sounds super obvious, but the idea is that you should evaluate the things you’re potentially going to use in your (building)… against these five things knowing who your client is or who your building owner is before you go whole hog into something they’re maybe not going to accept very well,” she said.

1. Relative Advantage: Is the new option an improvement over the previous technology?
Lighting options have changed over the years. From incandescent to compact fluorescent and now LEDs, customers need something that helps them differentiate among the products. One way is relative advantage.

“Each one of those (lighting options) has a relative advantage over the previous version. The most obvious one is they keep getting more energy efficient,” Altwies said.

Relative advantage is the reason why someone would decide to buy an LED bulb instead of a compact fluorescent or incandescent light bulb. LED lighting is one of the most energy-efficient lighting technologies, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The relative advantages for LED include the bulbs last longer, are more durable and have better lighting quality.

2. Compatibility: Does the new technology fit well with the owner’s values, needs or experiences?
If a new technology can work with a building’s existing technology and the owner’s goals, building owners are more likely to adopt the new measure, she said.

Installing a dual flush toilet, which uses different amounts of water to flush based on the type of waste, is an example, Altwies said.

“It’s totally compatible with the existing plumbing system. Just swap it out. It wouldn’t require any new piping,” she said.

3. Complexity: How difficult is it to understand or use the new options?
Complexity is the only potentially negative attribute, according to Altwies.

“If complexity goes up, the chances of adoption go down,” she said.

Altwies used the change in thermostats as an example. Older models have dials, whereas more recent thermostats are digital, have different functions and are programmable—making them more complex and perhaps deterring people from installing them.

But complexity can also be simplified, increasing its adoption and retention changes, Altwies said.

Natural ventilation systems can be complex, and Altwies said building owners are sometimes concerned the system will not work well because the occupants will not know when to open the windows. To erase this concern, some systems have sensors that trigger a green light to turn on when the weather is perfect for people to open the windows.

“It was really simple. They were using the fact that natural ventilation is actually quite complex in terms of figuring out when it is perfect from an HVAC standpoint. They boiled it down to just a green light bulb,” she said.

4. Trialability: Can the potential adopter try it out on a limited basis?
A building owner is more likely to use a new product or system if they can test it out before transitioning the whole building to the new technology, Altwies said.

One library was deciding whether to install a different type of lighting but was not sure how the change in lighting color would affect people’s ability to see books on shelves, she said. The library decided to try out the new lighting system on one aisle before expanding the system to the whole library.

5. Observability: Can it be easily seen or observed by potential users?
Some people just have to see it to believe it.

Building owners are more likely to adopt new technology if they can see it operating in another building, she said. Seeing options such as green roofs or night-sky approved outdoor lighting systems in use can help persuade building owners to invest in the options.

The Right Choice for Each Client
Using these five attributes can help designers and engineers more successfully approach client-approved systems differently, Altwies said. Sometimes that means not choosing the system that is better on paper, but using the system that better fits the client’s needs, she said.

The five attributes help building professionals focus on what the customer needs and wants as well as if they are capable of handling the systems, she said.

“If you think about it from these five aspects, it may aim you down a different path in terms of choosing equipment or systems that are going to be much more successful by the end user over time,” Altwies said. “If you did that from the very beginning before you even chose that system or equipment or control or strategy or whatever, you might have been more successful choosing something else in terms of the long-term operation in that building.”