FORUM SUSTAINABILITY IN (INTER)ACTION
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED
FROM SUSTAINABLE HCI?
Our six core lessons derived from thefirst seven years of SHCI researchcan be summarized briefly: The issuesindexed by the term sustainability posesevere challenges to existing HCI theories,methods, and institutional processes.
HCI “business as usual” is not wellpositioned to contribute substantivelyto efforts to address the challenges ofsustainability. Specifically:
Refraining from articulatingclear sustainability aims and metricsimpedes assessment of our efficacyin contributing to sustainability. Inresponse to the first four questions,most of the 23 participants rejectedthe idea that we could devise a singleinterpretation of sustainability to orientand evaluate all future SHCI research.
The salience of diverse sustainabilityissues (related, for example, to energy,pollution, poverty, employment, water,climate, and ecosystem health) varieswidely among the communities SHCIresearchers work in and with. Butwe cannot assess our effectiveness atcontributing to sustainability if wedo not make clear what we mean bythe term. Participants agreed thatSHCI research should articulate clearstudy- or design-specific sustainabilitygoals and metrics on a project-by-project basis, not restricted to HCIcriteria such as usability, efficiency, oruser satisfaction. SHCI researchersshould also evaluate their work withsustainability criteria derived fromrelevant natural and social scientificresearch and the communitieswithin which they work. Most, butnot all, participants agreed that
We want to change things for real , not just write papers. —E. Eriksson, workshop articipant
Six years after the workshop
on “defining the role of HCI in the
challenges of sustainability” [ 1],
that role remains unclear. In 2010,
DiSalvo, Sengers, and Brynjarsdóttir
identified five distinct genres in
sustainable HCI (SHCI). Between
the genres, they found striking
unintentional redundancy; significant
but unexamined differences in
assumptions, methods, and outputs;
and little connection to sustainability
work outside HCI [ 2]. Since 2010,
SHCI has continued to grow, through,
for example, accounts of everyday
practices, rich connections to practice
theory, discussion of “undesigning,”
design fictions, calls to activism, and
speculations on large-scale social
collapse. But we have done little so far
to explicitly address the conceptual
inconsistences in the field.
Motivated by this state of affairs,
the SIGCHI HCI & Sustainability
Community (HCI&S) held a
workshop at CHI 2014 to “grapple
seriously with the community’s
unresolved differences; find concrete
ways to support work that builds on
existing sustainability knowledge
within and beyond HCI; and find
concrete ways for HCI to contribute
to achieving sustainability” [ 3].
The overarching question orienting
discussion was: What have we
learned in sustainable HCI?
Organizers asked participants to
consider eight questions:
• What is sustainability?
• What do we know, from within andbeyond HCI, about how sustainabilitymight be achieved?
• What crucial open questionsremain?
• How can HCI research help achievesustainability?
• How should HCI and sustainabilityresearch be evaluated (e.g., is it possibleor desirable to review papers in differentgenres with one coherent framework)?
• How can the community usecritiques of past work to develop new,more productive approaches?
• How can we make better use ofsustainability knowledge from outsideHCI?
• How can we encourage work thatcontributes substantively to practicalefforts to achieve sustainability?
Drawing from insights revealed bythe workshop discussion around thesequestions, here we focus on lessons andnext steps.
M. Six Silberman, University of California, Irvine, Lisa Nathan, University of British Columbia,Bran Knowles, Lancaster University, Roy Bendor, University of British Columbia,Adrian Clear, Lancaster University, Maria Håkansson, Chalmers University,Tawanna Dillahunt, University of Michigan, Jennifer Mankoff, Carnegie Mellon University,Next Steps forSustainable HCI
In this forum we highlight innovative thought, design, and research in the area of interaction design and sustainability,illustrating the diversity of approaches across HCI communities. — Lisa Nathan and Samuel Mann, Editors
→ Sustainability issues pose
severe challenges for
HCI business as usual.
→ In future work, we aimto: specify sustainabilitygoals; consider longer timescales; draw from relevantwork outside HCI; build,support, and shape systemsin everyday use; and movebeyond simple models toaddress the full complexity ofsustainability problems.