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Sustainability and Assisted Living

Smart home technology creates opportunities for more independent living.

Independent living is a topic that impacts everyone — we’re all getting older, and eventually, we will all need technology that makes everyday life manageable. We simply don’t have the real estate to house everyone in specialized geriatric homes. And even if we did, many wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Likewise, changes in technology are affecting what it means for housing to be sustainable. There’s a growing move toward being more environmentally sustainable both to combat climate change and growing energy prices.

How are independent living and sustainability connected? What changes need to happen to move these areas forward? And what’s the industry’s responsibility in all of this?

Sustainability and Assisted Living Panel

That was the topic of a recent panel discussion entitled “Smart Homes for Sustainable and Independent Living,” which featured the following experts:

  • Paul Doyle, an assistive technology consultant focusing on independent living with clinical technology.
  • Alan Burns, a smart home installer focusing on sustainability and energy in smart homes.
  • Walt Zerbe, the senior director of technology & standards at CEDIA, the global smart home association.

Zerbe moderated the panel. Here’s a portion of that discussion.

Why is assistive technology still facing obstacles in the industry and marketplace when sustainability has become more prominent?
DOYLE: People are aware that technology can play an integral part in keeping people with physical disabilities in control of their immediate environment. We’re not actually telling anybody anything new. But when it comes to implementing it, people start to get a little bit hesitant.

I’ll be frank, many people working with those who have disabilities find the concept quite challenging. They’ve never worked with somebody who speaks in a specific manner or has a different communication style, so there’s an uncomfortableness associated with that. It’s a Rubicon that needs to be crossed.

BURNS: Integrators need people who can brief them about what clients need from a clinical perspective. We have a lot of expert integrators, but we also need people who have had interaction with clinical systems to even start to think about how that person is going to use the system you’re going to install.

Where does independent living technology overlap with sustainability?
DOYLE: Energy is at a premium. Being able to manage energy and reduce energy consumption on someone’s behalf is essential. However, the backbone we use to control energy can also be used to provide some assisted living functionality.

If we’re putting in something “smart” to keep energy at a minimum, why not see if we can use the same energy infrastructure to create environments that people can control remotely? If you can reduce risk and energy consumption using the same backbone, it’s a case of why wouldn’t you rather than why would you?

BURNS: In terms of sustainability for assistive technology, we’re going to be using electrification and electronics, so we need to provide energy security. This will create the stability and resilience of these systems that will give people independence in their homes. They’re both part of the design and can’t be separated.

We should also be asking, “How am I going to get this resource of energy to see me through?” That’s the kind of behavior and thinking we need to bring into people’s homes.


What is the industry’s responsibility for these areas of smart technology?
DOYLE: How do we use technology to interface between their existing assistive technologies to control their immediate environment? That gap still exists. If we can use technology as best as we can to keep people happy, healthy, and in their own homes, why wouldn’t we do that at all levels — from individuals to governmental institutions?

There’s a massive disconnect between clinical services and technical services. People don’t know what they don’t know. The challenge we have is bringing together all those constituencies and having a meaningful discussion.

BURNS: People need to be able to count the costs and see alternatives. It’s up to us as integrators to spell out to them some of the alternatives they can look at. For example, how they wire their house.

We as integrators and electric designers can put cables in so people who have special needs have the choice. If the Amazon or Google product isn’t working, they can choose what will work, which is a kind of independence.

ZERBE: This conversation has taken me from the idea of a smart home being nice to have — it’s fun, you can control your lights and music — to understanding it as a critical part of your life as you age and change. I see that side of the conversation, but I also see a lot of complications.

What needs to change in assistive technology and sustainability?
DOYLE: A lot of things people tend to focus on are the technologies, but really what people who are old, disabled, or need a little bit of assistance want are outcomes. There are design-thinking processes we need to start pushing out into the wider community to give people the competence and the confidence to deliver those solutions.

BURNS: We have the technology to use energy more frugally. There’s a slurping behavior and a sipping behavior, and I think we need to learn how to sip energy.

Most integrators have their go-to technologies, as well, that have one or two interface options. The options have to be opened up and analyzed clinically on a case-by-case basis. There are many options for what integrators can do on a macro level. Integrators need more information, which is a challenge of sustainability and independent living technologies.

ZERBE: One thing I’m getting from this conversation is that it’s hard. Not technologically, but in the scope of how to move forward. The integrator is the person best suited for it, but the integrator is going to need to learn a lot more skills.

They’re going to need to have empathy and design-thinking. They’re going to need to be able to work with other trades like caregivers and occupational therapists and craft a new network.

How do you think the already created tools should be brought into the realm of the integrator?
DOYLE: CEDIA can help deliver information about the new products that can really help people who need assistive technology.

Focusing on independent living and sustainability may be a new way to think, but when you consider the implications, you’ll feel good knowing your work is making people’s lives better. After all, that’s what our industry is all about, right?

Watch the full conversation at If you’re interested in reading more about independent living and provisions that are beginning to expand all over the world, consider reading the Smarter Homes for Independent Living Policy Connect report. This 2022 UK-based report shows research and recommendations (including smart home technology) for better public policy.