Developing and Assessing the Impact of a Socio-Technological Resource-Use Feedback System for Improving the Environmental Performance of Buildings and Institutions

EPA Grant Number: SU831875
Title: Developing and Assessing the Impact of a Socio-Technological Resource-Use Feedback System for Improving the Environmental Performance of Buildings and Institutions
Investigators: Petersen, John E. , Platt, Gavin , Murray, Michael , Arnaudov, Vesselin , Shunturov, Vladislav
Institution: Oberlin College , Brown University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: September 30, 2004 through May 30, 2005
Project Amount: $9,993
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Nanotechnology , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The built environment is responsible for two-thirds of our nation's electricity consumption and over 15 trillion gallons of water used annually. Personal and institutional choices can substantially reduce energy and water use in buildings, but it is difficult to motivate people to make decisions that conserve resources for future generations if they cannot easily and immediately sense the consequences of these decisions. The technical challenge that we propose to address in our P3 project is to develop a data monitoring and display system that enables easy observation and interpretation of resource use as it occurs at the scales of individual buildings and an entire campus. Specifically, for P3 Phase I we propose to develop a prototype system that would integrate water and energy use sensors, wireless datalogging and networking technology, and custom developed database management and display software to present students, teachers and facilities managers with easily interpretable graphics and compelling text explanations of resource use by two dormitories and one academic building in real-time on the web. A review of existing technology indicates that there is no integrated product currently on the market that accomplishes this objective; this would be a first.

The proposed work would build on the expertise that this team has acquired in designing the data monitoring, and display system for the Adam Joseph Lewis Center (AJLC) for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College ( Exit ). With over 150 environmental sensors deployed in the building and landscape, the AJLC is the most comprehensively monitored "green" building in the U.S. This system successfully models real-time web-based feedback on environmental performance. However, because it relies on centralized datalogging computers, it would be challenging and expensive to scale this system up. The newly available wireless datalogging technology that we propose to employ in our P3 project represents a promising alternative that could substantially reduce costs, ease installation, and enable data monitoring of across larger scales. Integrated with the database management and visualization software that this team is in the process of developing, the wide scale application of this technology holds the promise of changing the way that people perceive and interact with the built environment.

The premise of the proposed work is that real-time feedback on ecological performance increases both awareness and motivation to act in ways that minimize resource use. We propose to quantify our success at educating and altering the behavior of building users in three ways: by measuring "hits" on the data display website, by comparing resource use in dorms with and without publicly available display, and by surveying building users on attitude changes. Within the last month Oberlin College adopted an environmental policy that specifically calls for improved monitoring of building performance. Facilities management personnel have expressed an interesting in collaborating with us on the P3 project and assessing management changes.

The system developed for the AJLC provides an example of how we would make P3 concepts central to our curriculum. With faculty supervision, undergraduate students have been largely responsible for installing sensors, programming dataloggers, and designing both the database management and the display software. This real-world practicum in sustainable design has taken place through numerous independent studies, 10 research fellowships and two interdisciplinary upper-level courses specifically designed to explore how display of resource consumption in buildings can be used to achieve the goal of sustainability. Our P3 project would significantly expand and augment the successful educational model that we have developed. The interdisciplinary team of students on this proposal combine computer programming talents, knowledge of buildings and the natural environment, and a proven track record of creative problem solving based on prior work on the AJLC system. If we receive the grant, at least one student team member will build his honors research around this work.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 6 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

waste minimizatoin, decision-making, conservation, monitoring, measurement methods, RFA, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, Scientific Discipline, TREATMENT/CONTROL, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, cleaner production/pollution prevention, waste reduction, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Reinvention, Technology, Economics, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Monitoring, energy conservation, waste minimization, clean technologies, green design, consumption pathways, environmentally friendly technology, computer models, education, incentives, clean technology, ecological design, environmental conscious construction, green building design, emission controls, monitoring environmental emissions, energy efficiency, innovative technology, water conservation, real time energy monitoring, monitoring resource consumption, outreach and education, environmental cost analysis, green technology, environmentally conscious design

Relevant Websites:

dormEnergy WebsiteExit

Lucid Design GroupExit

SBIR Phase I Follow-on Project: Software Framework for Enabling Innovation in Behavior-based Energy Conservation in Commercial Buildings | Final Report
SBIR Phase II Follow-on Project: Using Software and Internet of Things Technology to Drive Behavioral Energy Savings in Commercial Buildings Using Building Orbs

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • P3 Phase II:

    Developing and Assessing the Impact of a Socio-Technological Resource-Use Feedback System for Improving the Environmental Performance of Buildings and Institutions  | Final Report