How to engineer trust in the transition towards sustainable housing

Published on
March 13, 2018
In the Netherlands, as in other European countries, the uncertain, fragmented character of the low-carbon retrofit market hampers a transition towards sustainable housing. Connecting homeowners to supply-side actors of low-carbon retrofit procedures, products and technologies in ways satisfactory to homeowners forms an important, challenging task. In an article published in the journal Building Research & Information, ENP-researchers Mandy de Wilde and Gert Spaargaren argue that strategic intermediaries are key actors in realizing a transition towards sustainable housing. They do so by engineering trust between homeowners and supply-side actors. However, an important role for policy actors who need to set parameters for a well-functioning low-carbon retrofit market is needed as well.

The article is an outcome of a two-year research project in which Mandy and Gert investigated the potential role of strategic intermediaries as agents of change located between supply-side actors and homeowners in the Netherlands. They have analysed how strategic intermediaries choreograph low-carbon retrofit experiences of homeowners through the design of a ‘customer journey’. Trust appears to be a crucial determinant. In the article Mandy and Gert distinguish between three customer-journey designs in which, depending on the role envisioned for homeowners, a different trust relation is foregrounded:

  • a private design envisions homeowners as passive consumers who trust in the expertise offered by the intermediary;
  • a civic design envisions homeowners as engaged consumer-citizens who trust their neighbours as reliable service representatives;
  • and a public design envisions homeowners as critical customers who trust in the retrofit technologies and products offered.

Currently in the Netherlands this type of service design is rolled out in various localities, with strategic intermediaries creating local markets for low-carbon service design. This is problematic because the choice for rolling out either a private, a civic or a public customer-journey design will result in a specific type of low-carbon retrofit market in which homeowners are engaged in fundamentally different ways. For instance, if homeowners who do want to be burdened with information live in a locality where a private customer-journey design is rolled out, they have no other option for support available. To combat this, a set of strategic policy efforts is needed to scale up this type of service design to accommodate homeowners in their various differing roles as customer and the different types of support they require.

This implies an important role for national policy actors. In the Netherlands, this would be the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG), as well as representatives of the Dutch building, installation and energy sectors. These actors have a role in developing, coordinating and securing these instruments in order to set the parameters for a low-carbon retrofit market in which all three customer-journey designs provide a function towards not only homeowners but also the public good, namely a transition towards sustainable housing.

You can find the article ‘Designing trust: how strategic intermediaries choreograph homeowners’ low-carbon retrofit experience’ here:

You can find more information on Mandy’s research project on ‘Upscaling low-carbon retrofit approaches in the Netherlands’ here: