Goals & Explanations
Rationale for Real-Time Display of Resource Use
The environmental impacts of buildings
U.S. citizens spend more than 90% of their lives in buildings. Residential and commercial buildings account for two- thirds of the electricity used in the U.S., 36% of U.S. greenhouse gasses, 9% of world greenhouse gas emissions, and 12% of U.S. fresh water consumption. Activities that take place within buildings account for over 90% of the energy used on the Oberlin College campus.
Production of electrical energy contributes to a broad range of environmental and health problems including climate change, acid deposition, lung ailments and mercury poisoning. Freshwater consumption (one source of energy use) leads to groundwater and surface water depletion, pollution and habitat destruction.
Dorm resource use feedback system
Bringing about a more sustainable campus is in part, predicated on improving the environmental performance of buildings. The premise of the campus resource use feedback system is that providing dormitory residents with easily interpretable real-time feedback on electricity and water consumption and on the financial and environmental impact of this consumption motivates and empowers students to conserve resources.
At present, electricity consumption is displayed on this website for 18 dorms and houses. For some dormitories, only total consumption is monitored. In others, kitchens and individual floors and/or wings are monitored separately. Eventually, we hope to expand monitoring to include displays of water use.
Dorm Energy Competitions & Research
Oberlin faculty and students in the Environmental Studies Program and the Psychology Department are engaged in collaborative research on the effects of the Campus Resource Monitoring System on the dorm residents' attitudes, behaviors and knowledge related to the environment. As an integral component of this work, an annual two week long dormitory energy competition is conducted to see which dorms can reduce their resource use by the largest percentage. A study that took place during the 2005 Dorm Energy Competition successfully demonstrated that resource use feedback systems motivate students to exhibit substantial short-term reductions in energy and water use in dormitories. A detailed description and analysis of data from this research is included in the papers linked immediately below. Key findings include:
On average, dorms reduced electricity use by 32% during the competition. The two dorms with real-time feedback won with 56% reductions in electricity!
During the two week competition students conserved 68,000 kWh saved $5,100 and reduced emissions by 150,000 lbs of CO2, 1,400 lbs of SO2 and 500 lbs of NOx.
The CRMS website received 4,000 hits during the competition. The majority of hits came from computers located in dorm rooms.
In a post-competition survey, dormitory residents reported developing resource saving strategies that they intended to continue at Oberlin and elsewhere.
We continue to work to expand the scope of the Campus Resource Monitoring system and research on the efficacy of real-time feedback. Current research includes an assessement of how feedback affects individuals “connectedness with nature” and, in turn, how prior attitudes towards the environment and technology influence utilization of feedback. We plan to eventually include all dorms and add feedback on water consumption as well as electricity use.
"Dormitory residents reduce electricity consumption when exposed to real-time visual feedback and incentives."
"Does Providing Dormitory Residents With Feedback On Energy and Water Use Lead To Reduced Consumption?"
Environmental Protection Agency's P3 Award Competition Winner
In May of 2005, Oberlin joined dozens of colleges and universities from around the country on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the EPA's P3 Competition, a national student design competition for sustainability. Oberlin took home the First Annual P3 Award for its data monitoring and display system that provides visual feedback on building performance in real time. The study, which took place during the Dorm Energy Competition, successfully demonstrated that low-cost resource use feedback systems motivate students to exhibit substantial short-term reductions in energy and water use in dormitories.
Phase I-funding was used to develop a prototype system for monitoring and displaying electricity and water use in Fairchild and Harkeness dorms. Phase-II funding has been used to expand the system to include most of the dormitories on campus. To learn more about EPA's P3 competition, visit the P3 website.
In April of 2007 Oberlin was one of eight institutions to win this award which is designed to advance and celebrate the innovators of global warming solutions on college and university campuses all across the country. To learn more vist the National Wildlife Federation's Chill Out Competition website