Accepted Paper:

An Analysis of Public Engagement in Sustainability within the Built Environment  


Amy Gray
Erik Stengler (University of the West of England, Bristol)

Paper short abstract:

This investigation into the communication of sustainability in the built environment, finds a clear need for improved communication within the sector, which currently appears fragmented, with an unbalanced perception of sustainability.

Paper long abstract:

The transition of the built environment towards an embodiment of sustainable development in common practice has seen some important but still marginal advances, with only a small proportion of the industry being currently classified as green. This study is interested in the role communication plays in this on-going transition. Green issues have a tendency to be perceived as a niche area within the sector of the built environment itself. They are then communicated with a niche audience in minds thus reinforcing its niche status in society.

The objectives of this research are twofold: to observe common practice in eleven UK based exhibitions, exploring their broad range of communicative styles and themes through ethnographic field observation and light quantification of thematic content analysis, and the collection of further qualitative data via interviews and heuristic analysis.

Results include a predominance of a structure using actual built environment as the exhibition. The most frequent theme was marketing a green economy, moving away from scaremongering messages about impending doom. At the same time we detected that in most cases the target audience was not specific and that the exhibitions did not share a clear common aim. With a background of a fragmented sector where expertise and proactive interest is not shared by all actors and sustainability is often associated with the intervention of third parties, this reveals that cross-disciplinary communication within the sector is still in need for improvement before communication to the public can reflect a cohesive community behind a shared goal.

Panel T032
Science Communication