Promoting environmental responsibility with building dashboards

November 15, 2016

By John Petersen

Building occupants are a critical force in combatting climate change through resource conservation. As a professor of Environmental Studies and Biology at Oberlin College in Ohio, I meet thousands of young, dedicated individuals who are committed to ensuring a healthier planet for future generations. But, in addition to dedication, we need data. Data helps people understand their impact on the environment. Data makes conservation tangible and real. Building dashboards that capture and communicate resource use data are key to helping people achieve their conservation goals.

Today, across campuses of all kinds, there are thousands of sensors, monitoring resource use from electricity to water to waste production and Co2 emissions. Modern buildings are being designed with built-in sensors that monitor all aspects of resource use. The sensors are connected to building management systems, utility companies and data sources on the Internet. Connected buildings communicate to occupants via data, and make it possible for occupants and building managers to monitor and control resource use through building dashboards––visual displays that show environmental impact real time

It’s already working in cities and across campuses. For example, the City of Oberlin uses building dashboards and public displays for all public schools, the city library and other buildings. Public displays showcase resource use in eleven places around the city of Oberlin. In the classroom, Oberlin college students monitor building dashboards for all twenty-six dormitories. These dashboards reveal energy and water use in real time, and allow students to take an active role in conservation. In our own experience, tracking use and communicating through public dashboards has shown significant reductions in expense and in resource use. In 2015 Oberlin College saved 9,744.5 kWh electricity (5.8% overall reduction) and 322,890.8 gal water (19.8% overall reduction).

Detailed tracking and publication of progress can dramatically reduce resource use, and can dramatically reduce cost. For example, the EPA estimates that for an 800,000 square foot campus, detailed tracking and benchmarking of energy use can reduce annual costs by $140,000. For a school or university, that could represent one new full time teacher per year.

How do you get started? First and foremost, get the data and begin to track usage. Other suggestions include:

  1. Master the fundamentals of building efficiency through building dashboards that monitor complete resource use
  2. Build an energy efficiency culture through leadership and communication, including dashboards
  3. Empower occupants including students, faculty, citizens and occupants through information
  4. Set and communicate clear conservation goals
  5. Centralize data and measure performance against the goals
  6. Make your results public, easy to access and easy to understand for all stakeholders
  7. Establish recognition and accountability programs to reward participation and progress.

Conservation and environmental health is top of mind for most people these days. Using building dashboards to set a baseline, track progress and communicate with occupants and stakeholders is a key step in building consensus around conservation goals and in promoting participation for everyone.

John Petersen is a member of the Lucid Board of Directors, and a co-founder. He is speaking on November 15, 2016 during at the Ohio School Boards Association and Capital Conference in Columbus Ohio. You can learn more about his session here.

John Petersen

John Petersen is a Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology at Oberlin College. He co-founded Lucid with several of his students in 2004 and is a member of Lucid’s Board of Directors.