Residential buildings are an estimated 21% of carbon emissions in the US (US Department of Energy, 2005), and behavior modification remains a significant gap in realizing energy efficiency and achieving environmental sustainability in this sector. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates that behavior modification can lead to a 30% reduction in energy consumption. However, data collection and availability is the key barrier to proving the viability of behavior modification to stakeholders, and to ultimately realizing the potential environmental, economical and social returns from achieving energy efficiency in this way.
Behavior-based approaches represent a tremendous opportunity because the savings are significant, implementation is simple and existing internet/social networking services can retain involvement by residents. Unlike capital-intensive approaches such as full-building retrofits, behavior modification is relatively quick and inexpensive and the potential savings are in line with or greater than those from retrofits. Behavior-based energy efficiency relies primarily on educating residents about sustainable behavior, such as using power strips and closing blinds during the summer that can result in large reductions in energy use. Encouraging and retaining involvement can be easily achieved through educational programming, workshops, direct feedback, and online tools such as social networking sites and blogs, which are perfect mediums to educate people and broadcast their progress and its impact.
In the context of climate change, behavioral modification of energy consumption in residential buildings is a strategy to easy and beneficial to ignore. The students and the University at large are all affected by this project to varying degrees. The University pays for the cost of excessive energy use in residential buildings on campus, potentially affecting students tuition fees.
A feasible solution to reduce the carbon footprint of residential buildings at The New School is to change the behaviors of the residents and those who are occupying the space. The Energy Reduction Challenge (ERC) is a behavioral change strategy designed to reduce individual’s energy use through direct feedback, educational workshops, community support, and incentives. The ERC began as a Green Fund project in 2011/2012 and is now offered as an Independent Study course that students can register for through the Architecture Department at Parsons. Green Fund recipients received a grant ($2,000) to install three eGauge units in the electrical room measuring the electricity and plug load use of 18 suites at the 20th St Residence Hall. Starting Fall 2012 the ERC became registered as a working class designed for students to facilitate and expand this project.
By continuing the ERC as an experiential learning course and expanding the project to other residential buildings all residents will be exposed to their own electricity consumption and have the opportunity to participate in programs designed to reduce their energy saving both on energy and money. The ERC is innovative a project that allows students to make lifestyle choices that will affect them post graduation and in the context of climate change. For the registered students taking the course the ERC is a hands-on opportunity allowing students to learn about electrical readings, exporting data into excel spreadsheets, designing interactive posters, effective ways to communicate with fellow students on how to reduce their energy, participating in meetings with various stakeholders and how to work as a team.