Implementing Real-Time Resource Use Feedback to Motivate and Empower Conservation

2008 - 2016
Team Leader
John Petersen
Oberlin College
Project Website

Each of us can improve the health of the Great Lakes by using this team’s products that show the impact of water and energy uses in real time. A new monitoring network provides instant feedback on the health of local waterways and the quality of air emissions to college students, area residents and small business as they use water and electricity. Beyond environmental feedback, users can see how their uses match up against other users. The team is installing displays in student dormitories, apartment buildings, and mixed-use housing that show what residents consume and how much it costs, in dollars and in real-time effects on local air and water resources. Their technology displays changes in water flow, air quality and power use at the individual residence, neighborhood, city and watershed levels. The network shares information through websites, public kiosk displays, “environmental orbs,” email, text messaging and social networking. The team expects to learn from this work both how to better use technology and how to advance the social psychology of sustainable living.

The team is expanding to make information on both electricity and water use fully transparent in all dormitories on the Oberlin College campus. The team will monitor a mixed-use development of three buildings housing 33 individual residences and 13 commercial spaces. The team is also analyzing the impacts of installed energy use orbs, emotionally reactive cartoon characters and comparisons to city-wide patterns of consumption on individual conservation behavior. Water flows, electricity consumption and water quality parameters will be measured at a drinking water treatment plant, wastewater treatment plant and in Plum Creek. Members of the team have launched a national water and energy efficiency competition among major US universities and are applying what this team is learning in a variety of commercial and public settings.

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  • Flow Regimes

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