Technical Papers

Bringing Choice Architecture to Architecture and Engineering Decisions: How the Redesign of Rating Systems Can Improve Sustainability

Abstract

To increase the long-term sustainability of architecture and engineering decisions, this research combined theory from behavioral science and civil infrastructure design to examine whether redesigning sustainability decision-making tools can alleviate potential status quo bias in planning and design decisions. Using case studies to simulate real-world decision environments, we empirically tested the combined effect of two modifications to the Envision Rating System for Sustainable Infrastructure. One modification provided engineers with sustainability points corresponding to the highest level of achievement, with any change to a lower level leading to a loss of points. The second modification showed engineers an exemplary project to serve as a feasibility example. The combined modifications produced significant gains in sustainability using predefined metrics. One concern is that these modifications work because decision makers are unaware of their effects. To assess this, we disclosed the modifications to another group of engineers. The disclosure had no significant effect on the gains in sustainability performance. We then repeated the experiment with groups. Similar gains in sustainability were achieved by groups who received the combined modifications. Our results suggest ways of using insights from behavioral decision theory to improve the growing array of tools used to plan for sustainability not only in large-scale infrastructure projects but also in a range of other upstream applications that determine downstream consumer choices.