Dormitory Residents Reduce Electricity Consumption when Exposed to Real-Time Visual Feedback and Incentives

Petersen, J., Shunturov, V., Janda, K., Platt, G., & Weinberger, K. (2007). Dormitory Residents Reduce Electricity Consumption when Exposed to Real-Time Visual Feedback and Incentives. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 8(1), 16.

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 CO-2) 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. Originality/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 apartments and other residential settings.

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