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Soft Systems

Part of
Reset Spaces

People Drive Sustainability

MA 2022

The UK government has set a target to reach net-zero by 2050, which will require large-scale transitions by companies and businesses in the UK and Major infrastructure decisions in order to implement these changes.

National Health Service Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) aims to reach Net-zero by 2040.  Responsible for inciting these changes are NHSBT's Environmental team, who want to transform how their estates and operations are run. In 2021, NHSBT achieved a 50% carbon reduction and zero waste/landfills and is working on building a sustainable supply chain, and resilient business model to reach net zero by 2040.


NHSBT manages donations, storage and transplantation of blood, organs and stem cells. They are a special health authority that provides their services nationally to the NHS and other private health centres in the UK.


A significant amount of responsibility falls on NHSBT estate teams, who work on supporting the transition of their estates to 'net-zero' through energy reduction. Sustaining their net-zero efforts will require changes in occupier behaviour and culture. Embedding a culture of Sustainability within the organisation is a pending challenge. This is where our research and involvement with NHSBT began.

Our research began with understanding the work dynamics and operations of NHSBT. We explored the roles and relationships between the estates and the environmental team. We found that Sustainability within the NHSBT was defined as living within the natural limits of the planet, while we understood it to be broader, involving socio-economic and ecological factors.

Our ethnography process in NHSBT London and the broader South East England centres helped us learn how the environmental, estate team, and occupiers engaged and interacted with the space as well as how they communicated and engaged with each other. Further Workshops and interviews helped us test our hypothesis,  identify key insights and uncover critical issues that limit the success of sustainability incentives.


We uncovered three key insights that led to organisational challenges and underlining issues which limited engagement with Sustainability. Based on our insights, we created personas that reflected the different working styles of NHSBT staff. We mapped our personas based on whether they were process-driven, creative, proactive, or reactive. Doing this helped us to learn the adoption and engagement needs of different personas. It helped us formulate our problem statement and How Might We….

How might we create a service proposition that empowers NHSBT estates to learn, co-create and implement a sustainable culture within their estates so that Sustainability is relatable and relevant for employees?


Implementing Sustainability requires making it tangible and relatable for the people in the organisation. Therefore our strategic approach to the problem was to explore behavioural and cultural elements of the organisation and engage with the people. This helped us identify key touch-points that could help change behaviours, and, therefore, the culture toward Sustainability.

We picked behaviour science concepts of nudging and priming which can help steer positive behaviours in a passive way.

We identified estates teams as our entry point, given their drive to improve the workplace culture.

We choose signage as a way to nudge behaviours and make Sustainability tangible. We realised that NHSBT estates function with signs since they help occupiers navigate the space, by providing rules of how to behave, to perform a particular action, and for safety.

We used the EAST framework to make our prototypes easy, attractive, social and timely.


Due to the red tape and highly sensitive working environment of NHSBT, we conducted initial tests in the Royal College of Art Campuses, which faced similar barriers with occupier behaviour and engagement. We prototyped different signages, and our key finding was that for signage to be useful, it needed to be created by its occupiers and given meaning by them so that it could be easily adopted and nurture a sustainable behaviour culture over time.

These experiments provided key insights into how occupiers respond and react to different shapes, colours and signs. After testing a collaborative process in the RCA, the estate reported that the signs had improved occupier behaviour.

Communication and engagement was an issue we had found; we tested a variety of touch-points but found a low response rate. We then revisited our insights and observations and realised that continuous face-to-face interactions had been the key engagement method- that helped build trust and relationships and was fundamental to collaboration. This is necessary for Sustainability to be tangible and accessible which we also found to be true in the RCA.

We used the NBS framework (foster commitment, clarity of expectations, build momentum and instil capacity for change) to explore communications and recognition for sustainability initiatives based on our persona's intrinsic and extrinsic work motivations. This made us realise that this activity needed to be defined through co-creation by NHSBT occupiers.


Soft systems is a 6-12 months pilot that helps estate teams embed a culture of Sustainability in their organisation. Our unique entry point is to understand occupier behaviour and help change it towards sustainable behaviours.

Estate teams and occupiers are taken on a process of co-creation that makes Sustainability relevant and relatable to occupiers and empowers estates to take ownership of the pilot. Occupiers design signage based on pain points identified by estate teams to nudge sustainable behaviours. These are co-created and placed according to how occupiers use and navigate their space.

We help estate teams tailor their communications and recognition efforts based on sustainability-focused personas to support engagement with the initiative. We deliver additional tangible or digital assets to help them reflect, support and monitor progress. The service ends with supporting estates in formalising procedures so sustainability efforts can continue to grow.


We are currently addressing and testing in NHSBT Cambridge and are piloting our service proposition with NHSBT. Some highlights are:

1. Participants were receptive to the workshop activities regarding personas. What helped is occupiers could relate to and identify the personas within their estate.

2. Participants were receptive to the prototype insights shared and creatively used them in their signage.

One said * "The weird-looking googly eyes will make people talk to each other"

Our aim is for this service to be rolled out in NHSBT estates across England.


Special Thanks to NHSBT Enviormental team and NHSBT Estate teams in Cambridge and London.  Our tutor and mentor, DR.Nicolás Rebolledo, Head of Service Design, Clive Grinyer. We would also like to thank alll our tutors especially Kam Chana, Richard Atkinson, Judah Armani, Qian Sun, Carolyn Runcie for continued guidance and support.

RCA Estates staff, Tony, Cafe and Security staff, Blessing, and team.

All the external experts and Chris Moore.

Special thanks to Tim Brown for the scholarship to complete RCA Service Design.