Preserving the Environment

Fact: When You Tell People How Much Energy They’re Using, Their Behavior Changes

March 4, 2015
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Fact: When You Tell People How Much Energy They’re Using, Their Behavior Changes
The largest office buildings in Charlotte, N.C., have installed kiosks showing live data on the structure's energy consumption in an effort to reduce waste. Courtesy Charlotte Center City Partners
This is how you get workers to care about their consumption of electricity.

A sustainability program is changing wasteful behaviors in Charlotte, N.C., by doing one simple thing: showing employees exactly how much electricity they’re consuming.

As part of the “smart city” movement harnessing data to drive action, Envision Charlotte installed kiosks with real-time data on energy usage in the lobbies of roughly 60 of the largest office buildings in Charlotte’s central business district, collectively reaching more than 67,000 employees. A first-of-its-kind partnership between public and private groups, the kiosks were installed at no cost, since the program’s two backers — Duke Energy and Cisco — believe they’ll earn $5.3 million in savings from the investment.

“This is an unprecedented plan to align business interests with smart grid technology in a way that can propel Charlotte to the forefront of energy efficiency,” says Michael Regan, the Environmental Defense Fund’s regional energy director. “Envision Charlotte is one of the most forward-thinking projects on the East Coast.”

Since its 2011 launch, the constant reminder has already changed the way employees act, encouraging them to turn off lights or limit air conditioning in unoccupied rooms. “As soon as people start seeing [their consumption levels], you intuitively start thinking about your actions,” says Amy Aussleker, executive director of Envision Charlotte. The program has already resulted in an 8.4 percent drop in energy use, nearly halfway to the Queen City’s goal of a 20 percent reduction by next year.

Up next? Envision Charlotte wants to present more data to office workers, Aussleker says, including sensors in trash cans to weigh pounds of waste produced and water meters to gauge usage — data that researchers will then tie back to emissions of smog-forming pollutants released into the air.
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