Researcher: dr. Elli Verhulst
In January 2012, Elli successfully defended her doctoral thesis at the University of Antwerp. A summary of the study entitled ’The human side of sustainable design implementation from the perspective of change management’ is given below.
Implementing sustainability in business is steadily gaining more attention. A growing number of companies currently work on the implementation of sustainable criteria in the design related departments and their design processes. Although theory and methods are available, practice shows that this integration process of sustainability criteria is not straight forward.
In this doctoral research, the emphasis is put on human factors that can influence this implementation process within firms. Knowledge on the product development process, sustainable design implementation and change management has been gathered in a literature review, combined with empirical data from practice in a preliminary research, and subsequently translated into a conceptual model. The conceptual model serves as a starting point of a qualitative case study that studies the human factors -divided in four main themes or constructs- and how they are related to the implementation process of sustainable design. The four constructs of human factors are: resistance against change, empowerment and involvement, internal communication on the changes and organisational culture.
The main goal of the study is to describe which factors arise in practice that further support or hamper the implementation process and how these factors can add value. This is done by the use of a qualitative case study approach: five Flemish and three Dutch firms have been studied that are in the process of broadening their experience on sustainable design. Qualitative data is gathered by performing interviews, supplemented with archival data and documents from each firm. The analysis of these data includes a descriptive and explanatory level of understanding. It is divided in five stages, with an emphasis on the cross-case analysis to compare the constructs between the different cases. The results of the qualitative study provides profound understandings on the implementation process of sustainable design in practice and on the human factors that influence this process. These insights meet the need for a better understanding on the human dimension of sustainable design implementation to scholars, as well as they provide support to practitioners that aim at implementing sustainable design in business.