Ezra Markowitz Eugene September 22, 2011

Hi all,

Steve Mital (University of Oregon), Bart Meehan (Australian National University) and I are working on a new project in which we're looking to collect stories "from the field" about well-designed sustainability projects that ended up having unintended consequences (see below for a few examples of what we mean). Our plan is to collect, categorize and draw lessons from as many stories as we can find. If you have a story you'd like to share with us, please send short write-ups (250 words) either to Steve Mital (smital@uoregon.edu) or to me (emarkowi@uoregon.edu), preferably no later than Dec. 20th. Your anonymity will be protected, of course. For more details, please visit http://sustainability.uoregon.edu/office-sustainability/unintended-consequences-project


[apologies for any cross-listing]

Oops: Unintended Consequences Of Good Design

We learn from our mistakes

1. Enhancing the morning experience
A university recently installed a grey water system in a new residential complex that reuses water from showers and kitchens in the buildings toilets. It should have prevented clean city water from being flushed down the toilets, but it didnt work out that way. Instead, water use surged. On investigation, staff found that residents from other buildings were going out of their way to use the grey water toilets. Why? Because the recycled water still had some residual warmth from the showers, enhancing their morning experience. The environmental benefits also enticed many to add a morning trek to the morning call.

2. Welcome to the neighborhood
A major new green skyscraper was designed with shiny facades to reflect sunlight, reduce solar gain, and lower cooling loads. It worked, kind of The neighboring skyscrapers experienced increased solar gain and had to turn up their air conditioners to combat it.

3. Its like a sauna in here
A new apartment-style residential building on a major university campus included room-level metering intended to change behavior by making energy use a direct expense. It certainly changed behavior. Maintenance staff noticed the chipboard cabinets were warping. Why? Instead of turning up their thermostats and paying for the electricity a number of clever students ran their showers (because they were not charged for hot water) and steam-heated their rooms.

Ezra Markowitz
University of Oregon
United States