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>  News Releases >   2008 >   April

Green screen

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 04/17/08 • Media Contact: Genevieve Haas • (603) 646-3661

Students get instant feedback on energy use in residence hall pilot program

Dartmouth students living in the McLaughlin Cluster residence halls enjoy a living space designed for efficient and sustainable energy use, and beginning on April 24, the residents of four floors of the new residence halls will also have the opportunity to see exactly how much their own behavior affects their buildings' energy use.

This animated polar bear lets students know how well they're conserving energy.
This animated polar bear lets students know how well they're conserving energy.

The initiative, Green Lite Dartmouth, aims to educate Dartmouth students, through real-time feedback, on how much energy is used, for example, by a hairdryer, a microwave, or a laptop. Green Lite Dartmouth will also serve as a resource for students looking for ways to reduce their energy use.

The program, still in its pilot phase, offers energy saving tips via the website (still in development) and students involved with the project make up the Current Reductions energy tune-up team. These volunteers will be available to provide in-room consultation to students who want simple strategies to reduce their energy footprint.

At the April 24 program launch event, Green Lite team members will be passing out energy-saving devices like compact florescent light bulbs and power strips to make energy conservation as easy as the flick of a switch.  Neel Joshi '11,  a member of the Current Reductions team said, "the program will make energy conservation tangible. The demands on students will not be monumental - no studying in the dark or hand-washing clothes. The changes we are suggesting are very reasonable, things like turning off unused lights, using a power strip, and taking shorter showers."

The most visible aspect of the initiative will be real-time, animated displays in the common spaces of the Rauner, Bildner, Goldstein and Thomas residence halls. The displays, broadcast on low-energy monitors, will show an animated polar bear, designed by Sonia Lei '08, at various levels of comfort or distress, depending on the amount of energy being used in the building. Low energy use equals a happy, healthy polar bear. High usage results in the bear suffering the effects of global warming. "The polar bear animations were chosen to give a simpler representation of what still seem to be far-distant effects of humans' energy consumption, and to visualize those effects on the bear while offering some level of interactivity," said Lei.  The touch screen displays can also be used to view graphic representations of overall dorm performance in energy savings. The website, and eventually, the display will also provide a record of the residence halls' energy use over time, enabling students to see whether they have made progress in reducing overall energy use.

Green Lite Dartmouth is the brainchild of Lorie Loeb, the co-director of the digital arts minor and research assistant professor of computer science. Inspired by the vision of the late Donella Meadows, a professor in Dartmouth's environmental sciences department, Loeb worked with more than a dozen undergraduates to develop the technology, educational and design components of the initiative. Loeb and the Green Lite team decided to implement the pilot program in four of the McLaughlin Cluster residence halls, which opened in the Fall of 2006.

"It is simple and easy to change our behavior in order to help save the environment - sometimes all we need is some information and feedback to understand the results of each action we take."

- Lorie Loeb

The residence halls follow guidelines from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), administered by the United States Green Building Council. College administrators hope they will receive LEED's gold certification for environmentally sound design. The buildings feature radiant heat and cooling systems, polyurethane foam insulation, high-performance double-glazed windows, energy-efficient lighting systems, and a heat recovery system using shower waste water.

The Green Lite team hoped to learn how students would modify their energy usage if they could see its real-time effect, and whether that knowledge would encourage them to incorporate simple energy-saving strategies into their day-to-day routines. "We can build the most efficient building in the world, but if people fill them with energy-hogging appliances or waste energy while living in the building, the environment still loses,' said Loeb, adding,  "It is simple and easy to change our behavior in order to help save the environment - sometimes all we need is some information and feedback to understand the results of each action we take."

If the pilot program proves to be a success, the Green Lite team hopes to expand it to include more residence halls and even non-residential spaces on campus. So far, funding has come from the offices of the Provost and the Dean of Faculty with support from the departments of computer science and sociology, residential life and facilities operations and management. Alumna Mary Finegan '86 has donated $50,000 to the project to fund its expansion into residence halls and Greek houses. Team member Anise Vance '11, working with sociology professor Denise Anthony, will also be conducting a survey to collect data on how the project has affected social norms around energy conservation. With luck, it may soon be possible to monitor the cartoon polar bear's health (and the energy being saved) all over Dartmouth.

The launch event will take place on Thursday, April 24 from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in Occom Commons in the McLaughlin Cluster. The event is free and open to the public and to press.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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