More Sustainable Housing Thanks to the Smart Tenant Challenge

Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute in Heilbronn initiates network to work on energy-conscious living

As part of the Green Deal, the EU wants to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and become a pioneer in climate protection. It’s a challenging undertaking, which is only manageable by working with others in networks and involving all stakeholders. One area that’s proving a major headache is the housing sector. Having recognized this, the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute in Heilbronn has launched an initiative called the Smart Tenant Challenge, the idea of which is to identify digital solutions that will promote energy efficiency and decarbonization in the housing industry.

Thirty percent of carbon emissions in Germany are currently attributable to buildings, of which approximately 60% are in turn accounted for by indoor heating systems used in housing.[1] Given current international issues, significant increases in heating costs can be expected. For the average rented apartment, a 10 to 15% increase in heating costs would be enough to result in an increase in rental prices of roughly 1 to 2%.[2] In years gone by, the main motivation for private households to heat and live sustainably was to save money. This contrasts with the “smart tenants” of more modern times, who are more likely to reduce their energy consumption to help the community. In the future, it will be mandatory to fit meters such that they can be read remotely, and tenants will be provided with online access to their consumption data to encourage them to live more energy-efficiently. But will the planned systems be enough to bring about long-term changes in behavior and make people more climate-aware? And what actually does it mean to be energy-conscious? The Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute in Heilbronn has been exploring these and further questions with the other project stakeholders.

A competition to find solutions

The Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute in Heilbronn, which spearheaded the project, organized a Smart Tenant Challenge with Gawlitta, a specialist in digital business models for real estate and construction companies. The challenge took the form of an open competition and was backed by sponsors from the real estate industry. The initiative brought a number of leading companies around the same table, alongside innovative startups and scientists: LEG, Deutsche Wohnen, four housing cooperatives (GEWOBA Nord, BVE, Wankendorfer, and Neue Lübecker), and technology partners Vodafone and Bosch. The focus lay in developing digital solutions together to make it possible to enhance energy efficiency and “decarbonize” the housing industry, with an emphasis on behavioral design and incentivizing tenants. The project received scientific support from Dr. phil. Matthias Laschke, Senior Researcher at the Chair of Information Systems/Ubiquitous Design at the University of Siegen.

Adding value for tenants, the housing industry, and the climate

The overarching goal of the Smart Tenant Challenge was to do genuine good to the benefit of tenants, the housing industry, and the climate by coming up with ideas based on field trials and user feedback. In specific terms, the project team examined which incentive systems are likely to motivate tenants to behave in an environmentally sustainable manner, which channels offer the best opportunity to contact tenants, and how innovative technology can be used not only to encourage people to adopt the right behavior, but also to evaluate their behavior. “This requires a complete rethink of the relationship between building owners and their tenants. Human behavior and changing mindsets are the key to a sustainable future,” believes Matthias Laschke. By adopting an approach based on co-innovation, the aim was to establish an ecosystem that would result in new, shared solutions coming onto the market. These and similar experiences could also be of benefit to the housing industry. Introducing incentive systems, using different communication channels, and rethinking ecosystems and data sharing provides a basis for smart tenants to achieve the green energy transition in this area of society.

Prospects for the future

The first phase of the Challenge project took place in 2021, resulting in a tool called Mission Green, just one potential solution initiated by Sebastian Gross, a digitalization expert at project partner Vodafone. The app, which is currently only available to Vodafone staff, is part of a green digital initiative, the aim of which is to make it easier for users to reduce their daily CO2 emissions and motivate them to use climate-friendly modes of transportation. “Vodafone has been a partner to the housing industry for many years, and as such we don’t just focus on technical solutions – we adopt a holistic view of the task at hand, right down to involving residents,” says Sebastian Gross.

To keep up the momentum of the project, the Smart Tenant alliance will now move on to translating concepts into products and upscaling. The goal is to embark on a pilot project in the upcoming 2022/23 heating period before automating systems. The ideas generated for the Smart Tenant Challenge are a building block for the transformation toward sustainable, climate-conscious living. Getting people to think again about all situations in life will be an important step in making society more energy-conscious, and this will be translated subconsciously into everyday actions.

Challenge Projects

The term Challenge Project refers to an initiative involving between five and ten parties, working together on a given problem. By pooling different expertise, the goal is to develop a marketable solution, pre-tested in pilot projects, in order to enhance the benefits and value-added delivered to individuals and groups.

Behavioral design

Motivating people to donate regularly to charitable activities, encouraging people to be more aware of environmental issues, but also inspiring companies to do more to focus on actual users: The aim of behavioral design is to gain a better understanding of human behavior by using psychology, technology, and design methods to experiment with and develop solutions that will help people make better decisions – for themselves and the environment.


Lena Noller (author)
Research Assistant
Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute

[1], (German)
[2],, (German)