Skip to main content

EMPOWER: Empowering empathic energy efficiency design

Improving energy efficiency and delivering better working environments through user-centred design innovation

About the project

EMPOWER stands for Empowering Empathic Energy Efficiency design - it is a two-year project and is one of four innovative research programmes that received investment from the Technology Strategy Board and EPSRC following a week-long creative workshop on the theme of user-centred design for energy efficiency in buildings in spring 2010.

Led by More Associates in collaboration with WMG at University of Warwick and Brunel University, EMPOWER focused on better understanding the energy-use implications of people's everyday interaction behaviour within workplaces. Building on More Associates' innovative CarbonCulture platform already in use by several UK government departments including DECC, Defra and HM Treasury, the project developed a novel user-centred product/service system to reduce energy demand.

In a unique approach, the project integrated insights from recent research on design for behaviour change with a programme of empathic, user-driven product/service development. A series of participatory design workshops with real end-users and stakeholders, provided a sound basis for commercial realisation and exploitation.


EMPOWER was funded following a competition run by the Technology Strategy Board's (TSB) Low Impact Buildings Inovation Platform, which aims to help the UK construction industry deliver buildings with a much lower environmental impact. EPSRC also invested in the projects. The funding was allocated using the 'sandpit' process. The competitive element was to attend a 5-day creative workshop known as a 'sandpit'. Industrial and academic attendees are encouraged to work collaboratively in exploring problems and uncovering novel solutions.

Key Findings

EMPOWER focused on reducing the CO2 emissions of workplaces through connecting staff with energy data, and their own behaviour, in more engaging ways, via a digital platform. This has now been launched commercially as CarbonCulture.

A collaboration between More Associates, Design at Brunel University and WMG at the University of Warwick, EMPOWER benefited from DECC's offices in Whitehall as a pilot site. The project developed More's nascent 'CarbonCulture' energy monitoring platform into a suite of web apps, a user dashboard, blog, visualisations and physical touchpoints designed to engage staff in understanding the energy and carbon impacts of everyday behaviours and practices.

DECC aimed to lead by example; technical improvements led to 21% CO2 reduction in 2010-11, but further improvements will come in part through behaviour change. The aim of the pilot was to achieve a high level of staff engagement-measured by repeated use of the platform-demonstrating effective methods of engaging employees in caring about the part their behaviour plays in CO2 emissions, both as a precursor to behaviour change, and to increase buy-in to relevant building operation changes.

The project partners have expertise in user-centred design and behaviour change for social benefit, including energy monitors, sustainable design, healthcare experiences and development of the Design with Intent toolkit, a cross-disciplinary pattern library. In EMPOWER, elements of this expertise were applied as part of a participatory design methodology, involving DECC staff in development through workshops and prototyping.

Following ethnography, participatory activities, carbon footprinting, and background research (including contributions from all project partners), key areas of staff behaviour were identified to address through CarbonCulture's combination of digital and physical interventions, including:

  • encouraging staff working late to move to a single floor
  • encouraging staff to eat lower-carbon lunches
  • logging commuting transport choices
  • involving staff in assessing thermal comfort
  • providing information on CO2 impact of business travel

'Apps' were paired with physical touchpoints (e.g. loyalty cards for lunch choices), available via a dashboard presented as part of the DECC intranet. All apps offered users points for logging particular actions, redeemable for prizes; a 'social proof' ticker showed users the actions their colleagues were taking.

Publicly available electricity and gas visualisations-both near-realtime and summary data-connected staff directly to building performance and seasonal changes, enabling conversation with facilities management. The introduction of gas data visualisation at DECC enabled 20% daytime gas savings to be identified.

400 of 1,000 DECC staff joined CarbonCulture, comparing very favourably with other employee engagement schemes. Of those, 160 maintained engagement over three months, using apps and logging actions. Insights from the pilot are being incorporated into the platform, including tailored versions for new clients. Other government departments-including Number 10-have also signed up for elements of CarbonCulture.

More launched CarbonCulture publicly in late 2012, with a blog and a DECC-endorsed report including sections authored by Dan Lockton, the Brunel/Warwick researcher on EMPOWER. Academic outputs include papers published and in preparation on interaction heuristics, engagement strategies and mental models of energy.