C-tech: creating the energy for change

Representing shared energy use in non-domestic buildings to motivate energy saving

Project duration: August 2012 to September 2017

C-tech explored the “culture of energy use in shared spaces and how information on energy consumption can be represented to motivate behaviour change”, explained Nick Banks, who managed CSE’s involvement in the project.

"For instance, a user of a shared building might boil the kettle, turn up a room thermostat or the air conditioning, print off several reports and leave on lighting in an unoccupied meeting room, but won’t feel responsible for any of the energy consumed to power these services, because it is shared energy consumption and it is not allocated to them as an individual. Nor do they pay for it. As a result, it is hard to attribute related costs and to provide the feedback needed to encourage behaviour change to reduce energy use."

The starting point for this innovative 5 year project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) was that energy consumption of commercial buildings when in use is usually much higher (often double) than their designed consumption. The research, led by researchers from the Universities of Southampton and Nottingham aimed to close this gap by identifying effective, evidenced based behaviour change strategies to close the gap between the designed and actual energy consumption - where possible.

The multi-disciplinary project drew on skills from several fields including behavioural psychology, anthropology and computer science whilst CSE were engaged as practitioners with frontline experience of behaviour change in organisations. The final report on the Ctech project is found here.

CSE has previously worked on projects that require creative thinking about organisations’ functions and psychological insights to help cut energy use. For example, Our Big Energy Challenge was a project that aimed to reduce the energy consumption of the main public-sector bodies in the city of Bath by 10% over three years. This made use of a mix of state-of-the-art metering and monitoring equipment to identify which buildings could be made more energy efficient. Simple behaviour change techniques were also deployed, such as providing a little reward when someone acted to save energy at their workstation: if you turned off your monitor at the end of the working day you might find a sweet on your desk in the morning. Awareness raising activities were carried out to change energy-related behaviours among thousands of employees.

C-tech was divided into three key working areas:

‘Taking Ownership’ identified who is using energy within a building, how best to assign responsibility and how to feed that back to the occupants (whilst being sensitive to ethics and privacy issues involved in data collection; i.e. people should be unable to monitor one another’s coffee drinking habits). This had a strong input from the field of computer science; studying people-computer interactions and designing displays to best communicate energy saving information.

‘Putting it Together’ looked at different ways of combining energy data and joining this up across user groups or spaces. The energy data is also combined with other commonly available information, such as weather patterns, to put it in context. Building environment and occupants’ routines are considered, and attitudes to energy saving action surveyed by behavioural psychologists and ethnographers to help understand how to best present energy information to occupants.

‘People Power’ focuses on changing building user’s behaviour collectively. It examined how people interact around different energy goals, considering in particular cooperation and regulation, in finding out what works best in different contexts. Ethnographers observed workplace relationships: different actors within an organisation, such as the energy manager, HR manager and employees, may have different agendas relating to energy use - for example, relating to energy targets, health and safety and employee comfort. Whose agenda prevails and in what context?

These activities will combine to inform technical, design and policy recommendations for energy monitoring in workplaces and conclusions for other multi-occupancy buildings. CSE will develop a tool kit which draws on the three strands of academic research to pass on to other organisations. Challenges that promote specific energy action for the users of a building will be trialled to demonstrate the impact of collective behaviour change.

Testing ‘People Power’ – a behavioural experiment at CSE’s offices

To inform the research, an experimental behaviour change trial was conducted in CSE’s office.  A game was devised to raise staff awareness of the energy wasted by leaving their computer monitors on when away from their desks. If a monitor was left idle for five minutes, a QR code (two-dimensional barcode) would pop up on screen. This could be scanned by a colleague using a smart phone (or similar technology) who was awarded points for ‘busting’ someone. A board was mounted in the office showing the most ‘busted’ and the best ‘buster’.

The activity was effective in that during and after the task, staff were more conscious of leaving their monitors on. However, ‘gamifying’ the activity brought in a competitive aspect that encouraged unnecessary energy wastage; if a monitor was left for a significant period, staff had the opportunity to refresh that monitor at 5 minute intervals, allowing them to generate and scan a series of QR codes and repeatedly ‘bust’ their colleague.

A toolkit for engaging staff with energy issues and promoting behaviour change

A legacy of the Ctech project is the creation of a toolkit. CSE has developed  a set of processes, applications and guidance from Ctech research findings  intended for use in other organisations.    

The toolkit aims to give building users new insights into how energy is used in the workplace and to provide facilities staff with the means to engage with staff more effectively as part of a wider energy management strategy. The toolkit has five main elements:

  1. The “e-Genie” web application for visualising and engaging people with their energy use.
  2. A workplace energy audit tool.
  3. Energy workshop templates and plans.
  4. Guidance on designing energy engagement communications.
  5. A digest of academic papers produced within the C-tech project.

Further information on the toolkit is found here.

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