By Kate Siber D’02
Published Apr 15, 2011
When it comes to getting people to turn off the lights, there are few things more motivating than a bedraggled cartoon polar bear. At least, that’s judging by the results of GreenLite, a social energy-use monitoring program introduced in select Dartmouth residence halls three years ago and to Tuck student residences in the spring, thanks to a gift by the Tuck class of 2010.
Developed by a team of Dartmouth undergraduates in the environmental studies, computer science, and digital arts departments, with the help of Dartmouth computer science professor Lorie Loeb, GreenLite uses meters to collect data on energy usage that students directly control, such as outlets and lighting. Using a weighted algorithm, the data are compared with long-term trends to create a “mood score,” which is translated into animations of a cartoon polar bear displayed online and on monitors in student residences. If students use more energy than usual, the bear might look dejected while rain pelts her ears or might even break through the ice into the water. If energy usage is low, the bear’s cub might run up and cuddle or happily chase a seal around the screen.
“What we’re trying to do is create an emotional connection to the data,” says Loeb. “Turning a light on and off may not directly mean that the polar bear’s environment is getting warmer, but it does at the same time.”
The program has seen enormous success at Dartmouth, reducing overall energy use in student residence halls by 10 percent, and has expanded to most other residences and some administrative buildings. Students have named the bear and changed their habits for her well-being—one sorority even reported holding meetings in the dark.
In April, seven GreenLite monitors appeared in Tuck residence halls, with an additional Bloomberg-like data feed and a cartoon penguin representing energy costs. In the fall, Tuck Sustains, the student sustainability initiative, plans to launch an awareness campaign to foster healthy competition between floors.
“We hope not only to support the more philosophical piece of the equation but also to make a real difference in terms of the environmental footprint,” says John Sullivan T’11, co-chair of Tuck Sustains. He adds that submetering and the psychology of how social awareness affects behavior have relevance in a business context. “It doesn’t surprise me that the class of 2010 would leave this as their gift,” says Sullivan. “It’s a community initiative pertinent to the business world. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”