made me smile | Greenview iPhone/iPad app

Greenview new app screenshot

This made me smile this morning.

The app (that will soon be available for Android phone too) is an interactive way of visualising energy consumption on campus at De Montfort University. The app shows five buildings in DMU (Queens Building, Kimberlin Library, Hugh Aston, Campus Centre, and IOCT) re-elaborated in a cartoon way and presented as endangered animal species. The electricity consumption of the buildings is displayed (and updated every half-hour) and the application gives the possibility to comment and post updates on Twitter. [I have been talking about this project few times: here, here, and here]

The data about consumption are presented in a traditional and creative way, this being one of the main aim of the project in itself. They are firstly presented in the form of a graph with related quantity of kWh/m2. The innovative contribution of the application is to show the consumption as affecting the `mood` and the environment of the buildings. When energy reduction is achieved the environment and the mood of the building change toward a `sunny` characterisation; when instead energy consumption increases they turn to a rainy or even worse environment. Each building has been attributed a `protecting` endangered animal to increase the sense of identification and engagement of building users.

The research team is not just crazy and made it for fun. Different are the theoretical groundings of the application. First, it is based on the idea of the effectiveness of feedback in reducing energy consumption (Darby 2006; Burgess and Nye 2008) (for complete references click here) . However effective, feedback can be a difficult and obscure instrument, when they shows energy (in our case electricity) as kWh. The general users in fact miss the technical competence to understand the measure and to link it to their daily behaviours and practices (Darby 2006; Holmes 2007; Hargreaves, Nye et al. 2010). Therefore a creative way of displaying energy has been sought by the Greenview team, choosing at the end to show the `happiness` of the buildings according to the effectual measurement of electricity. Second, the building are been presented as cartoon and have been associated an endangered animal to enhance the sense of attachment to the building and stimulate the engagement in pro-environmental behaviours. This idea comes from a study in the USA (Dillahunt, Becker et al. 2008) that investigated if the attachment to a virtual pet could have a positive impact on environmentally responsible behaviour. The study used a polar bear, an iconic animal whose fate is tightly connected with the environment in the climate change scenario, whose ice floe would shrink or expand in response to the energy behaviour of its owners. The findings demonstrate that participants were more concerned about the environment, and this translated into significantly high reported actions. However, it was a short term project; therefore it is unsure if this type of intervention can lead to long-term behavioural change. Third, the application is grounded on the idea of stimulating competition as a trigger for environmentally responsible behaviour. That is the reason why it is possible to compare the energy trend of each building with the one of the others. Siero research in a manufacturing company in fact showed that comparative feedback can increase the will to engage in pro-environmental behaviour and they also increase sentiments of co-operation between the workers of the same unit (Siero, Bakker et al. 1996).

The Greenview Research Group is based at De Montfort University and is a collaboration between the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development, the Institute of Creative Technology and the Estates department. It was formed as a result of three research projects funded by JISC’s Greening ICT programme. The common factor between all three projects is a desire to tackle the problem of environmental sustainability through increased visualization of the impacts of our individual and collective actions, notably our increasing energy use and consumption of goods and services.

The app is an interactive feedback, but in the words of his creators “his app alone is not going to change behaviour – all we are trying to achieve is to start a conversation and raise awareness of the problem of energy in the built environment“. And I think it is a good way to start a conversation at DMU, because it is fun and more people may be interested.

To start using the app just go on the Apple store on your iPhone/iPad and search for `greenview`. It will come out. is just that easy! To check out what else they are doing and for updates on their project have a look at their website greenview.dmu.ac.uk or follow them on twitter @greenview. It’s worth doing it!!

Have fun playing with the animals!! And please come back to tell me what do you think about it! I love to hear your thoughts!

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