Dormitory residents reduce
electricity consumption when
exposed to real-time visual
feedback and incentives
John E. Petersen, Vladislav Shunturov, Kathryn Janda,
Gavin Platt and Kate Weinberger
Oberlin College, Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, Oberlin, Ohio, USA Abstract
Purpose – In residential buildings, personal choices inﬂuence electricity and water consumption. Prior studies indicate that information feedback can stimulate resource conservation. College dormitories provide an excellent venue for controlled study of the effects of feedback. The goal of this study is to assess how different resolutions of socio-technical feedback, combined with incentives, encourage students to conserve resources.
Design/methodology/approach – An automated data monitoring system was developed that provided dormitory residents with real-time web-based feedback on energy and water use in two “high resolution” dormitories. In contrast, utility meters were manually read for 20 “low-resolution” dormitories, and data were provided to residents once per week. For both groups, resource use was monitored during a baseline period and during a two week “dorm energy competition” during which feedback, education and conservation incentives were provided. Findings – Overall, the introduction of feedback, education and incentives resulted in a 32 percent reduction in electricity use (amounting to savings of 68,300 kWh, $5,107 and 148,000 lbs of CO22 ) but
only a 3 percent reduction in water use. Dormitories that received high resolution feedback were more effective at conservation, reducing their electricity consumption by 55 percent compared to 31 percent for low resolution dormitories. In a post-competition survey, students reported that they would continue conservation practices developed during the competition and that they would view web-based real-time data even in the absence of competition. Practical implications – The results of this research provide evidence that real-time resource feedback systems, when combined with education and an incentive, interest, motivate and empower college students to reduce resource use in dormitories.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/1467-6370.htm
Research was supported by grants from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s “P3” program and by the Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges and the US Department of Energy Rebuild America Energy Efﬁciency Program. A team of students was responsibility for organizing and advertising the competition, reading utility meters, and collaborated on the design and interpretation of the post-competition survey. This team included: Andrew Barnett, Roman Corfas, Lauren Dennis, Rebecca Derry, Courtney Epstein, Jacob Grossman, Callen Miracle, and Jenna Trostle. Garrett Miller assisted in graphic and web design. Chris Fry assisted with computer technology. Oberlin College facilities personnel, including Art Fruner, Dan Cunningham, Eric McMillion, and Bill Mohler contributed to monitoring system design and installation, trained students and provided historical data on campus resource use. Cindy Murnan, Cal Fry, Art Ripley,John Bucher and others at Oberlin’s Center for Information Technology provided critical assistance with system implementation and made it possible to track the locations of web site visitors.
International Journal of Sustainability
in Higher Education
Vol. 8 No. 1, 2007
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/14676370710717562Originality/value – This is the ﬁrst study to report on the effects of providing college students with real-time feedback on resource use. The authors of this study are currently engaged in further research to determine: whether reductions in consumption can be sustained over time with and without incentives; the degree to which feedback affect attitude; and the degree to which ﬁndings are transferable to...
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