Carrie joined USP in August 2015 as a Senior Sustainability Consultant.
Starting a new job whilst in the final throes of finishing a 4 year PhD programme may not sound like a great idea. However, in this case taking a step back and getting a fresh perspective on sustainability was just what I needed.
My PhD has looked at how people in energy efficient and airtight homes are getting to grips with living with new types of ventilation technologies. I’ve spent several years thinking about a tiny sample of 15 homes and their occupants in a great deal of depth. My attempts to find out what actually goes on in people’s bedrooms (in terms of ventilation, that is!) involved interviewing residents about how and why they open windows, and touring their homes to see how their furniture choices might conflict with the designer’s ideas about how air is ‘supposed’ to move around a house. The fun part of nosing around other people’s houses was followed by hours and hours of solitary transcribing, reading, reflecting, more reading and, eventually, writing about what I learned during these visits. For me, this project was always an endeavour on the most micro of scales.
Contrast that with day one at USP where I was given the opportunity to review a sustainability brief for a seaside resort in Cuba. The USP Sustainable Development Framework covers 8 key themes, and energy use in buildings is just part of one theme – ‘Resources’. Other themes include ‘Connectivity’, ‘Community’ and ‘Resilience’. This brought home just how many facets of sustainability there are and that so much needs to be considered in the planning, design, delivery and management of our built environment. It also made me realise what a luxury it has been to spend so long investigating such a tiny piece of the puzzle and how important it is that what happens in academia doesn’t stay in academia.
My research found that contrary to the design team’s expectations, people don’t automatically change the way they ventilate when they move into a home with a new type of ‘efficient’ ventilation. They continue to leave windows open at night and may be completely unaware of the presence of innovative technologies. Instead, ventilation practices are shaped by past experiences, myths about what is healthy and individual comfort preferences. Those groups responsible for regulating, designing and delivering low energy housing should consider that the best energy performance will only be achieved if residents are engaged throughout the handover process so that they can gradually adapt to a new, more sustainable, lifestyle, rather than have it thrust upon them.
I’m thrilled to have the chance to join the teams at USP and UST and look forward to sharing what I’ve learned in my studies with my colleagues and helping deliver exciting and innovative projects.