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Design thinking for innovation in sustainable built environments: a systematic literature review

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Design thinking for innovationin sustainable built environments:

a systematic literature review Kallaya Tantiyaswasdikul

Faculty of Architecture and Planning, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand

<small>Purpose– This systematic literature review investigates the contribution of design thinking (DT) as a processand tool to drive innovation in a sustainable built environment (SBE) and develops a new model forsustainability research integrating DT and future thinking approaches toward achieving a unified DT andforesight notion for future research and applications.</small>

<small>Design/methodology/approach– This review was based on the Preferred Reporting Items for SystematicReviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement. Open-access English articles published between 2000 and2022 identified using the EBSCOhost, Emerald Insight, DOJA, JSTOR, Scopus and Taylor and Francisdatabase searches were reviewed. The review framework deploys a previously proposed modified Ansoffmatrix with an integrated innovation matrix to identify and analyze the challenges and opportunities forinnovation growth in SBE. Additionally, a citation analysis was conducted to explore the impact of DT forinnovation in SBE, and a proposed framework based on design by drawing on foresight theory wasdeveloped.</small>

<small>Findings– Research on DT for innovation in SBE faces the challenge of unanticipated impacts. According tothe average number of citations per document, innovation associated with new solutions within a new contextseems to become highly influential. Additionally, research gaps exist in the integration of foresight and DTinto sustainability research to identify new contexts and solutions to SBE. A model of foresight designthinking (FDT) is proposed to guide future research and support the practical application of DT insustainability.</small>

<small>Research limitations/implications– This analysis was limited by the selection criteria as only certainkeywords were used and English-only articles were selected. Future research should consider the use of DT forinnovation in SBE using various important keywords, which would improve research findings and expand thecontribution of DT to SBE.</small>

<small>Practical implications– The FDT model offers a new holistic framework for the iterative process ofreframing and reperception, focusing on divergent and convergent thinking with the goal of contributing toSBE practices.</small>

<small>Social implications– The integrated framework of DT and foresight can contribute to the study anddevelopment of sustainable innovation and a strategic shift toward a sustainable society.</small>

<small>Originality/value– The integration of DT, foresight and sustainability can broaden the horizons ofsustainability research by systematically addressing future challenges related to SBE, which can be translatedinto feasible and innovative solutions. Thus, the FDT model complements the application of DT in sustainableinnovation in this research field.</small>

<small>Keywords Design thinking, Foresight, Sustainable built environment, Sustainable innovation, Innovation,Sustainability</small>

<small>Paper type Literature review</small>

1. Introduction

In recent years, climate change, energy shortage and environmental issues have becomeprimary concerns. The built environment is a major energy consumer, whereas the building

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<small>The author would like to acknowledge the generosity of Design Innovation for Sustainability, theresearch unit supported by the Faculty of Architecture and Planning Research Fund, ThammasatUniversity.</small>

<small>Funding: This research was supported by the Faculty of Architecture and Planning Research Fund,Thammasat University.</small>

<small>The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:</small>

<small>Received 30 January 2023Revised 21 April 20238 August 2023Accepted 8 September 2023</small>

<small>Smart and Sustainable BuiltEnvironmentVol. 13 No. 3, 2024pp. 677-710© Emerald Publishing Limited2046-6099</small>

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construction sector is a considerable consumer of natural resources with a critical impact onenvironmental problems (Abu Dabous et al., 2022). Global environmental crises havesubstantially increased the demand for sustainable building and construction. A sustainablebuilt environment (SBE) refers to the approach of maximizing resource savings over thelifecycle of resources, reducing energy consumption and pollution and protecting theenvironment (Xu and Wang, 2020). A fundamental change in the way resources and energyare used in the construction business is reflected in the transition toward SBE (Kibert et al.,2000). Creative and cutting-edge solutions are imperative for overcoming current obstaclesand creating new sociotechnical and socioecological systems (Patterson et al., 2017). Toaddress these problems effectively and help the world achieve its sustainable developmentgoals (SDGs), innovative sustainability strategies must be developed (WIPO, 2021;Erbguthet al., 2022).

Over the past 2 decades, design thinking (DT) has gained attention as a tool for generatinginnovative and creative solutions to complex and uncertain problems involving multiplestakeholders (Maher et al., 2018). DT has been identified as a new paradigm for addressingnew, open and complex problems (Dorst, 2011). From a theoretical perspective, design can bedefined as the conscious act of changing an existing situation into a more preferred one(Simon, 1988) and DT represents a way of thinking about a range of design problems whendesigners create solutions under conditions of complexity and uncertainty (Sch€on, 2015).Recently, DT has attracted attention as an emerging approach for coping with complexsocioecological problems (Buhl et al., 2019). DT can be applied in crucial sustainability areasto address complicated problems (Buhl et al., 2019). Sustainability is also a designrequirement. Although design approaches for sustainability are well-established, theintegration of DT with research on SBE remains limited.

There is a growing confluence between sustainability and foresight (Floyd and Zubevich,2010). Strategic foresight is defined as the ability to create a forward-looking view (Slaughter,1997) and refers to seeing the future in different ways and imagining different possibilitiesthrough scenario building based on trends and uncertainties to fabricate plausible futures(Amer et al., 2013;Voros, 2001). Foresight allows us to conceive a plausible future context fordesign and ideas to provide future solutions (Buehring and Bishop, 2020). The goal offoresight is sustainability in a changing world, and it could be a major tool for tacklingsustainability (Destatte, 2010). Foresight and DT complement each other and allow us toexplore alternative futures that hold new perspectives (Buehring and Bishop, 2020), openingup the range of stakeholders further increases the likelihood of success.

Previous research by the author (Tantiyaswasdikul, 2023) attempted to identify theexisting connections between DT, foresight and sustainability; indicated the practicalapplications of DT for innovative and sustainable future solutions in the built environment;and proposed a framework combining DT and foresight as a foresight design thinking (FDT)model to guide future research on DT in sustainability. This study presents further researchaimed at clarifying the sources and impact of SBE. Instead of performing only a systematicliterature review, this study deploys a citation analysis to explore the influence of DT oninnovation in SBE. This complements previous research (Tantiyaswasdikul, 2023) byproviding a more comprehensive understanding and proposing a new, undetected impact ofDT on innovation in SBE.

2. Methodology2.1 Study design

This is a systematic literature review of the applications of integrated DT and SBE to describethe practical applications of such integration and develop a new FDT model. Themethodology was based on the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-


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Analyses (PRISMA) statement (Page et al., 2021). The study involved three recommendedreview phases: (1) identification of candidate articles; (2) screening of full-text English articlesfor eligibility and keywords, including design thinking, sustainability and built environment;and (3) definition of the inclusion criteria for the review and qualitative synthesis of the finalsample of eligible articles.

The literature was compiled between March 10 and 25, 2023. Relevant articles wereidentified from leading academic research databases, including EBSCOhost, Emerald Insight,DOJA, JSTOR, Scopus and Taylor and Francis using keywords such as design thinking,sustainability and built environment. Only the DOJA database, which provides a specifictopic search, was used DT in building construction. In total, 749 documents were obtainedfrom the Scopus database, 125 from Emerald Insight, 52 from DOJA, 31 from Taylor andFrancis, 30 from EBSCOhost and 21 from the JSTOR database. The total number ofdocuments was 1,008, of which 454 were open-access articles. After screening and eligibilityassessment, 65 articles were found to be relevant to DT, sustainability and the builtenvironment and were selected for further analysis.

In addition, this review provides a citation analysis to clarify the influence of DT oninnovation in SBE. Citation counts were performed using the extensive Google Scholar (GS)database on April 15, 2023. Strong connections were found between GS-based metrics andconventional Journal Impact Factors, such as the Thomson Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge,particularly the Web of Science (Harzing and Van der Wal, 2008;Kousha and Thelwall, 2007;Pauly and Stergiou, 2005) and Journal Citation Reports (JCR) (Harzing and Van der Wal, 2008;Pauly and Stergiou, 2005). Given that all academics have access to citation data regardless oftheir institutions’ financial capabilities, GS-based metrics offer free access and permit thedemocratization of citation analysis (Harzing and Van der Wal, 2008; Pauly andStergiou, 2005).

To develop a proposed framework based on opportunities for theory and practicedevelopment in the field of design by drawing on foresight theory, the author deploys aniterative cycle DT process of empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping and testing(Stanford D.school., 2010), in a strategic reframing of the Oxford Scenario Planning approach(Ramirez and Wilkinson, 2016). Based on the theoretical basis of foresight in the theory ofprocess and impact, when considering foresight as a social process and an intervention in anorganization (Piirainen and Gonzalez, 2015), DT goes through iterative steps to incrementallydevelop a design solution in a trial-and-error manner to meet creative solutions. Futurescenarios are produced as a design solution through the scenario planning process (Kishitaet al., 2021) using divergent and convergent thinking.

2.2 Data description

The 65 documents comprised 58 journal articles and 7 conference papers.Table 1lists articleson DT integration published in different areas of built environment-related research,publication and institution. The majority of the papers provided methods, strategies, toolsand practices for delivering sustainable solutions (30 papers), followed by papers pertaining tourban planning and processes for sustainable development (14 papers), while some papers wererelated to net zero carbon and CE (12 papers). Six papers were related to inclusive and healthyneighborhoods and buildings, and four focused on affordable and clean energy. In terms of themost productive publication, Sustainability has the highest number of publications equal to 9documents (13.8%), followed by Journal of Cleaner Production (6 documents, 9.2%) andBuildings (3 documents, 4.6%). Five publications, including Architectural Engineering andDesign Management, Design Studies, IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science,Procedia Engineering, and Sustainability Science, have similar number of documents(2 documents, 3%). For the geography of institutions, each document includes both single

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institution publications and multiple institution publications. The seven most productivecountries include (1) Australia (10 documents); (2) The Netherlands (7 documents); (3) Germanyand UK (5 documents); and (4) Singapore, Sweden and USA (4 documents).

2.3 Review framework

To clearly identify and analyze the challenges and opportunities for innovation growth inSBE, 65 articles were selected and plotted using a DT and innovation framework. Acrossacademic fields, the word“innovation” is frequently used and discussed in diverse contexts.Innovation is associated with creativity and novel solutions; however, the overuse of a wordoften detracts from its value (Banerjee, 2016). Innovation refers to the ability to surpassexpectations and provide novel benefits (Banerjee, 2008). The link between innovation anddesign reflects the importance of creativity as a component of innovation (Martin, 2009), andinnovation requires design and DT to address challenges (Banerjee, 2016).

Innovation is synonymous with advanced technology, creativity and novel solutions(Banerjee, 2016). However, scientific inventions represent only one type of innovation.Innovation involves developing new ways to use or combine current scientific andtechnological information (Souto, 2015). Innovation refers to activities that createknowledge; however, it does not necessarily end with the development of new knowledge(Souto, 2015). The application of new knowledge that fulfills user needs is also an innovation(Souto, 2015). Innovation can be described according to three main types: product, process andorganizational innovation (Souto, 2015). Innovation can help to identify and frame problems innew ways of formulating solutions. This study deploys a modified Ansoff matrix with anintegrated innovation matrix proposed by Jacoby and Rodriguez (2007) as the DT andinnovation framework. This is a 23 2 matrix with two categories of challenges, familiar andunfamiliar, framed against two categories of solutions, known and unknown (Figure 1).

The framework identifies the appropriate types of sustainable innovation growth,recognizes the scope of challenges and deploys an appropriate innovation process andassessment portfolio (Jacoby and Rodriguez, 2007). The mapping outcomes are derived fromthe analysis of the method, process or tool used as a solution in the research study, as well asthe context. In the lower left quadrant (A), the challenges are familiar and solutions are

<small>Figure 1.Design thinking andinnovation framework,a modified Ansoffmatrix depicting fourdifferent types ofinnovation</small>



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known; this leads to better quality outcomes, contributing to incremental innovation andoffering solutions within the existing context. To achieve incremental outcomes, this studyrequired an execution-focused process and a human-centric approach. In this group,innovation focuses on understanding rather than exploring it.

In the lower right quadrant (B), the challenges are unfamiliar and the solutions are known.This generates adaptive outcomes and contributes to evolutionary innovations that applyexisting solutions to a new context. In the top-left quadrant (C), the challenges are familiar andsolutions are unknown. This leads to the leveraging of outcomes and contributes to evolutionaryinnovation, offering new solutions within the existing context. For the evolutionary outcomes,this study required an ideation-focused, human-centric approach. Evolutionary outcomes can befurther differentiated based on whether they focus on adding new value to existing or newcontexts. These differences can be mapped to DT and innovation frameworks.

In the top-right quadrant (D), the challenges are unfamiliar and solutions are unknown.This generates disruptive outcomes, contributes to revolutionary innovation and offers newsolutions within a new context. To achieve revolutionary outcomes, this study requires anexploration-focused process as well as a human-centric and future-oriented approach. Theforesight framework is an important tool for exploring plausible futures. Revolutionaryinnovation refers to the co-occurrence of a radical mindset that defines new challenges anddevelops solutions. Unfamiliar challenges or unknown contexts and new or unknownsolutions encourage us to break away from existing assumptions and normal sensemakingand create new mental models of how to approach the challenges (Ringberg et al., 2019) whilesimultaneously reframing and reperceiving solutions. This creative approach is driven bynew“sensemaking strategies” (Davidsson, 2015) and resembles to scenario planning.

Paradoxical cognition refers to “managerial frames and processes that recognize andembrace contradiction” (Smith and Tushman, 2005, p. 523); evolutionary and revolutionaryinnovations are built from a paradoxical cognition in order to both pursue exploration andexploitation—a procedure that calls for reflection to take advantage of chances and/or novelconcepts (Ringberg et al., 2019). Evolutionary and revolutionary approaches require newmindsets (Ringberg et al., 2019). Considering new contexts and solutions is crucial to increasethe probability of sustainable innovation. Each project is fundamentally different, and itsorigins are unique. What is revolutionary to one project is incremental to another. All thesecategories are based on the outcome-centric structure of the innovation process (Jacoby andRodriguez, 2007). To achieve future-oriented sustainability, the key driving forces rely ondefining new contexts or unfamiliar challenges and exploring new solutions.

3. Design thinking for innovation in SBE

Innovation is the key to the success of SBE solutions. This matrix offers a theoretical schemethat illustrates the innovation classification. By classifying and summarizing the 65 selectedpapers, the status and practical applications of DT in the field of SBE were discussed from thefollowing four viewpoints, as shown inFigure 2. Most of the innovations associated with theexisting solutions within the existing context or incremental innovation (23 papers, 35.4%);29 papers (44.6%) were classified as evolutionary innovation, which includes innovationrelated to the existing solutions within a new context (16 papers, 24.6%) and new solutionswithin the existing context (13 papers, 20%). Thirteen papers (20%) were prioritized asrevolutionary innovations that explored new solutions within a new context.

3.1 Existing solutions within an existing context (incremental)

In the lower left quadrant of the matrix, the challenges are familiar and the solutions are known.This leads to better outcomes and contributes to incremental innovation, which offers solutions in

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the existing context. Such incremental innovation can be defined as an improvement within agiven framework of solutions or as a continuous modification of previously accepted practices(Norman and Verganti, 2014). The challenges in this group include the issues of public servicedesign, household water consumption, product–service systems, performance of urban designers,sustainable strategy, waste sterilization systems, urban community development, urbanlandscape, sustainable practices, slums in the city, building construction waste, architecturaldesign review process, resiliency projects and strategies, urban planning, sustainable supplychain innovation, policymaking for public transport by the local governments, sustainablebuilding, sustainability transition in supply chains, management plans, sustainable solutions inthe built environment and prefabrication construction, as summarized inTable 2.

3.2 Existing solutions within a new context (evolution)

In the lower right quadrant of the matrix, the challenges are unfamiliar and the solutions areknown. This leads to adaptive outcomes, contributes to evolutionary innovation and offerssolutions in a new context. Radical innovation can be defined as a change in framing or a newcontext. The challenges in this group include smart buildings, CE, zero-emissionneighborhoods, zero-energy renovations, climate change, energy-flexible factories,renewable energy infrastructures, sustainable smart cities and sustainability-orientedinnovation, as summarized inTable 3.

3.3 New solutions within an existing context (evolution)

In the top-left quadrant of the matrix, the challenges are familiar and the solutions areunknown. This provides leveraging outcomes, contributes to evolutionary innovation andoffers new solutions within the existing contexts. This radical innovation can be defined as achange in the framing solution and comprises new, unique and discontinuous solutions.Innovation in this category is associated with familiar challenges and contexts. However, thesolutions presented in this study are novel. The challenges in this group include sustainableliving labs, coastal area management, urban project redevelopment, building informationmodeling (BIM) technology, sustainable design campus, building construction, real estate<small>Figure 2.</small>

<small>Sixty-six selectedpapers plotted on adesign thinking andinnovation framework,a modified Ansoffmatrix, with anintegrated innovationmatrix proposed byJacoby andRodriguez (2007)</small>



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<small>Existing solutions within an existing context (incremental) 23 papersReference</small>

<small>Familiar challenges (an existing</small>

<small>context)Known solutions (existing solutions)Baek and Kim (2018)Public service designParticipatory public services using design</small>

<small>thinking (DT) to increase citizens’ satisfactionwith those services</small>

<small>Bermejo-Martın et al.(2021)</small>

<small>Household water consumptionA web-based prototype within the DTmethodology to engage households andmitigate the risks associated with developmentBertoni and Ruvald</small>

<small>urban designers</small>

<small>A comparative framework and appliedknowledge of professional practice for betterunderstanding of DT in urbanism</small>

<small>Carayannis andGrigoroudis (2022)</small>

<small>Sustainable smarterspecialization strategies</small>

<small>Efficacious multi-criteria approaches thatleverages DT philosophies and agilemethodologies</small>

<small>Castiblanco Jimenezet al. (2021)</small>

<small>Sustainable waste sterilizationsystem</small>

<small>A DT framework to develop a new method forthe treatment and disposal of infectious wasteGozzoli et al. (2022)Urban community developmentA DT approach to identify its potential and</small>

<small>facilitate an informal discussion</small>

<small>Hooimeijer et al. (2017)Urban landscapeA DT process for systematic processing ofcontextual information on the site underdevelopment</small>

<small>Hoolohan and Browne(2020)</small>

<small>Sustainable practicesDT and social practice theory to develop atoolkit to design interventions that unlockunsustainable practices</small>

<small>Kumar et al. (2016)Redevelopment of slums in thecity</small>

<small>A DT approach to enhance urbanredevelopment</small>

<small>Kusumarini et al.(2014)</small>

<small>Building construction wasteAdaptive reuse of building construction wasteas new building construction material using aDT process</small>

<small>Laovisutthichai et al.(2022)</small>

<small>Construction waste minimizationA DT method to develop practical guidelinesfor construction waste minimizationLee and Chiang (2016)An architectural design review</small>

<small>A code-checking system using the buildinginformation modeling (BIM) technology withthe Fuzzy Delphi method based on DT andcommunication theory</small>

<small>Lochhead (2017)Resiliency projects and strategiesRebuild via a design processMensonen and</small>

<small>H€allstr€om (2020)</small> <sup>Urban planning</sup> <sup>A DT approach in the urban planning sector</sup><small>Nilsson and</small>

<small>G€oransson (2021)</small> <sup>Realization of sustainable supply</sup><small>chain innovations</small>

<small>A process model based on a DT model forinnovation</small>

<small>Perez et al. (2022)Policies for the public transport oflocal government</small>

<small>A co-design approach to support the analytical,operational, and political policy capacities ofgovernment bodies</small>

<small>Petrova et al. (2019)Sustainable buildingDT, BIM, sustainable building design andperformance assessment, data analysis and AI,and emerging technologies to improvedecision-making on design</small>

<small>Pyykk€o et al. (2021)Sustainability transition in supplychains</small>

<small>The Double Diamond design process model toformulate a DT overview and trace potentialresearch gaps</small>

<small>(continued )</small>

<small>Table 2.Existing solutionswithin an existingcontext</small>

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