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What goes on behind closed doors? How college dormitory residents change to save energy during a competition-based energy reduction intervention

Nicole Sintov (Information Sciences Institute and Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Marina del Rey, California, USA)
Ellen Dux (Information Sciences Institute, University of Southern California, Marina del Rey, California, USA)
Agassi Tran (Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Marina del Rey, California, USA)
Michael Orosz (Information Sciences Institute, University of Southern California, Marina del Rey, California, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 4 July 2016

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper was to evaluate the impact of a competition-based intervention combining high-resolution electricity feedback, incentives, information and prompts on college dormitory residents’ energy consumption and participation in demand response events. The authors also investigated changes in individual-level pro-environmental behaviors and examined psychosocial correlates of behavior change.

Design/methodology/approach

Residents of 39 suites in a freshman residence hall competed against one another to reduce energy consumption and win prizes as part of a three-week competition. Feedback was provided in near real-time at the suite-level via an interactive touch-screen kiosk. Participants also completed baseline and follow-up surveys.

Findings

Electricity use among all suites was approximately 6.4 per cent lower during the competition period compared to baseline, a significant reduction. Additionally, participants reported engaging in various pro-environmental behaviors significantly more frequently during the competition relative to baseline. Changes in pro-environmental behavior were associated with changes in level of group identification and perceived social norms.

Practical implications

In three weeks, dormitory residents saved 3,158 kWh of electricity compared to baseline – the equivalent of more than 3,470 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. The findings provide evidence that real-time feedback, combined with incentives, information and prompts, can motivate on-campus residents to reduce energy consumption.

Originality/value

The authors contribute to a limited body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of dorm energy competitions in motivating college students to save energy. In addition, the authors identified individual-level behavioral and psychosocial changes made during such an intervention. University residential life planners may also use the results of this research to inform student programming.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This work was funded by the US Department of Energy Grant #DE-OE0000192 and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). Incentives were funded by the USC Office of Residential Life. The authors would like to thank Jack Trump, Sally Behpoornia and their staff of Residential Advisors for 2014-2015 for their integral roles in implementing the project; Carol Fern and Chris Bovia at USC Facilities Management Services for overseeing meter and kiosk installation and providing electricity and weather data; Dr Kyle Konis for providing suggestions on cooling strategies, given the building’s architectural features; and Bingye Chen, Catherine Swaidan and Arash Zadeh for assisting in materials development and data entry; and Adam Chhan and Justin Powels at LADWP for their advice.

Citation

Sintov, N., Dux, E., Tran, A. and Orosz, M. (2016), "What goes on behind closed doors? How college dormitory residents change to save energy during a competition-based energy reduction intervention", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 451-470. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-02-2015-0027

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited