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: SU832466
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. , Frantz, Cynthia , Janda, Kathryn , Mayer, Stephen
Institution: Oberlin College
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: II
Project Period: September 1, 2005 through August 31, 2006
Project Amount: $74,991
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2005) Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Energy , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The built environment is responsible for two-thirds of U.S. electricity consumption and over 15 trillion gallons of water used annually. On college campuses, a significant percentage of total energy and water consumption takes place within dormitories. Personal choices can substantially reduce energy and water use in dorms and other institutional buildings. However, it is difficult to motivate building occupants to make decisions that conserve resources for future generations if they cannot easily sense and react to the implications of their decisions. The technical challenge that we propose to address is to implement and assess the efficacy of a data monitoring and display system that enables easy observation and interpretation of resource use as it occurs at scales ranging from individual floors of residential dormitories to an entire campus of buildings. The premise of our research is that publically accessible feedback on resource use in buildings increases both awareness and motivation to act in ways that change attitudes, minimize resource use and save money.

In Phase I of our P3 project we successfully demonstrated that it is possible to create a relatively low-cost resource feedback system that stimulates interest and motivates college students to exhibit substantial short-term reductions in on energy and water use in dormitories. The prototype wireless monitoring and web-based display system for two dormitories on the Oberlin College campus reduced electricity use by 56% during a two week "dorm energy" competition. Dorms without this technology reduced electricity use by an average of only 13%. The challenge we propose for Phase II is to scale up both the technology and evaluation of its impact to the level of campus-wide implementation. Specifically, in Phase II we propose to: 1) expand the number of dorms receiving real-time monitoring and display; 2) investigate the efficacy of alternative XML data gathering technology; 3) implement more stable and transferable server management and display software; 4) engage a broader team of faculty and student researchers that includes members with expertise in environmental psychology and in the sociology of resource conservation; 5) implement a comprehensive research protocol to assess longer term effects of socio-technical feedback; 6) develop more educational content for the feedback website; and 7) engage a broader group of partners to ensure future technology transfer. In essence, Phase II research consists of a more comprehensive and larger scale implementation of our Phase I design goals of creating a cost-effective campus-wide feedback technology that inspires and empowers students to behave in ways that minimize resource use, build knowledge and understanding, and generate environmental and financial benefits.

Supplemental Keywords:

conservation, clean technologies, innovative technology, waste reduction, waste minimization, global climate, acid deposition, ecological effects, life-cycle analysis, psychological, sociological, preferences, public good, business, RFA, Scientific Discipline, TREATMENT/CONTROL, Sustainable Industry/Business, Sustainable Environment, Technology, Economics, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Social Science, energy conservation, waste minimization, clean technologies, consumption pathways, urban planning, education, ecological design, rainwater harvesting, energy efficiency, innovative technology, water conservation, resource recovery, monitoring resource consumption, pollution prevention, environmental cost analysis, rainfall harvesting, environmentally conscious design

Relevant Websites:

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 I:

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