This article explores the relevance of the demonstration project as a strategy for inspiring contemporary building practice in a process towards sustainable building and as a tool for influencing environmental values in the community. The Log Cabin Project in Napier, New Zealand, is a demonstration facility for displaying sustainable building and living practices situated on the campus of the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT). The project is the refurbishment of an existing structure designed to showcase the sustainable use of material resources, energy and water conservation, and waste-water management. The aim was to investigate the effect visiting a demonstration sustainable building might have on people’s knowledge of and attitude towards sustainability issues, and more specifically whether the methods for making a building more sustainable displayed in the building affected how people thought about their own living environments. In February 2016, five visitor groups, three of EIT students not previously connected with the project, one of EIT staff, and a local environment group were invited to view the project and surveys were conducted both before and after the visit with 126 participants completing both pre- and post-surveys.
The research found improved scores after the visit in six of the seven survey measures of environmental knowledge, motives, and intentions, especially in the case of student visitor groups. The results also indicated promising increases in environmental values and concerns for environmental quality after the visit. Correlation between gender and sustainable action was not significant, however there was significant correlation between age and actions intended in the future where engagement was higher among young participant groups. Moreover, although many visitors had previously engaged with at least one pro-environmental activity before visiting the project (90%), 42% made at least one change as a result of the visit. These findings suggest the project was a catalyst for behaviour change. Discussions are centred on the usefulness of demonstration sustainable buildings as tools for fostering environmental protection practices.