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Design for Sustainable Behaviors

The way we’ve designed our cities and buildings in the past has created a template for living that most people follow without much thought, and that template makes it inconvenient to live sustainably. Building designers and operators have tremendous influence to rewrite this template, and to make it easier for ordinary people to change their lifestyles.
Services offered:

  1. For new projects, our design services can help inject best practices for tactical behaviour change into the planning process. We will draw on our experience to recommend ergonomic options for features such as secure bicycle storage, car-share parking, community agriculture siting, recycling & composting facilities, secure storage for local food box delivery, community laundry and kitchens, etc.
  2. For projects that are further along, we provide Masterplan and Building Design Reviews which assess drawings, and provide recommendations for modifications (normally fairly minor and inexpensive) that will make adoption of sustainable behaviors much more convenient for residents.
  3. For existing buildings, BioRegional provide assessments and recommendations for inexpensive retrofits along the same lines.

These approaches explore building retrofits or design measures and service partnerships that will make the adoption of sustainable behaviours as ergonomic and convenient as possible. Operations Recommendations will furthermore propose to the owners or managers improvements to management plans, policies and practices to help make sustainable behaviors the “default behaviors”.

Applying the Proximity Principle

At BedZED, the One Planet Communities prototype development outside London, Bioregional learned that some services were not widely adopted because they were too far from residents’ homes. Many residents felt that the compost heap, located at the edge of the community, was too far a walk and ended up putting their compost in with the garbage sent to landfill.

The “Proximity Principle” is derived from such observations, and from permaculture practice which places the most-used features (eg. herb gardens) in the “zone” closest to homes.

The Proximity Principle advises that designers make it more convenient for residents and users to take advantage of the sustainable choice than the unsustainable choice – eg. the car-sharing parking is closer to home than the private vehicle parking.

At least 4 areas have been identified where pedestrian proximity should be the primary driver for decisions in design and in operation:


  1. Community Center. One is much more likely to use a community center if it is closer to the home and easier to get to – pedestrian proximity and central location is key.
  2. Vegetable gardens. In permaculture practice, locating the crops you might use most often (eg. a herb garden) closest to your house is considered to be effective design. We have generally found that vegetable gardens should be located as close as possible to homes to make them convenient for residents to access frequently. Garden sheds or lockers for storing gardening tools can make it easier for people to get out to the gardens without hauling tools from home. Applying the proximity principle to vegetable gardens in a larger development often means spreading the gardens around across the site. A large, centralized “community farm” can be complimentary to this approach, but play a different role than community gardens and should not be confused with them.
  3. Car-sharing. One of the best strategies to lower car ownership rates is to make car-sharing extremely convenient. One way to achieve this is to give preferential parking spaces to the car-sharing program (eg. in a parking garage, those spaces closest to the elevator). It is important to spread the car-sharing vehicles around a development as much as possible
  4. Recycling & composting. Under-sink waste segregation is a best practice we’ve widely recognized to be important – but it is equally important to make it as convenient as possible for residents to empty these receptacles into chutes or bins.