Sustainability is the most important challenge facing humanity: we must decrease our use of resources and production of pollutants in order to survive. Technology continues to advance to meet this challenge. However, scientific advancement shies away from changing how humans view and address their impact on the planet. Humans (specifically customers) face strong emotions, misinformation, and counterfactual instincts in their decisions regarding sustainable products (and systems).

Designers and engineers must technically address these very human concerns if they want to produce successful sustainable products. They must understand why people interact with sustainable products in the way that they do: customer purchase intentions, use patterns, evaluations, and needs/desires. Designers must also understand how the customer interprets and assesses product sustainability, and how the customer weighs their own priorities in terms of trading sustainability with other product considerations, such as price and functionality. IRIS Lab defines this understanding of the customer’s decisions and evaluations as building cognitive empathy with the customer. Beyond customers, it is important to empathize with other stakeholders in the design process.

To merge customer understanding with technological advances, the two must be able to “talk” to each other. We enable this “conversation” using Quantified Cognitive Empathy (QCE). In QCE, human emotions, preferences, decisions, and actions are mathematically represented so that they can be combined with engineering models and/or statistically tested.