By Angela Cookston
In an ongoing study, students and faculty researchers look into on-campus energy consumption and sustainability awareness using student’s self-reported shower times and temperatures.
The Trail sat down with Amy Fisher in the Science, Technology, and Society program on September 20 to discuss the study. “The overarching goal [of the research] is really to think about how we can use our energy more efficiently and potentially make changes at a grassroot level that could help mitigate things like climate change,” Fisher said.
She broke that goal into its many parts. “The goal of the research is twofold. One is to make students aware of the fact that hot water use is a significant source of energy consumption and to get them to reflect on how much energy they’re actually using,” Fisher said, “And then also to hopefully make them more aware that just small changes in everyday behaviors can produce that amount of energy.”
Involved students include Shelby Kantner, Mathew Gulick, Bjorn Hoffman, and Maya Bittman. Lynnette Claire in the Business and Leadership department, David Latimer in the Physics department and Dan Sherman in the Politics and Government department are also involved in the project. The project began summer 2017 and is ongoing.
“If you take one minute shorter shower or you reduce the temperature just by a couple of degrees it can make huge energy savings,” Fisher said. Students often use more energy by taking hot, long showers or washing clothes in hot water.
Most students don’t know what temperature their shower is being used at. “One of the things we’re trying to do actually is to have thermometers installed in some of the dormitories,” said Fisher.
In addition to thermometers, stopwatches will be installed in some of the dormitory showers so students can see the temperature of their shower as well as how long they shower.
The study will rely on students’ voluntary and anonymous self-reporting. They can choose to report the temperature and time information on a log used by the researchers.
“We’re just hoping people will be honest. So that we’ll get to see… what is the norm, right, for a Puget Sound student in residence.”
The researchers are also planning on putting up educational posters, which will tell students how much energy they’re actually using on average, how that affects the environment, and how that affects their health.
Fisher said that the researchers ran a test-run of the study over the summer in the summer research housing in two Greek houses. “That worked out really well. We got some really interesting results.”
In October, which is National Energy Awareness Month, the researchers will run the project in six residence halls on campus with the goal of seeing how self-reporting impacts students’ hot water use.
Fisher explained that many college campuses have energy awareness competitions, which will reward students for reaching goals by the end of a time period. “But the problem is that the savings don’t stay. So like after that month-long competition ends, things generally tend to go back to normal.”
The researchers hope that the act of reflecting on their own energy usage will cause students to make long-term sustainable changes in behavior.
“We hope it will have some positive benefits but even if it doesn’t then we’ll still learn something from it,” Fisher said. “If this strategy doesn’t work, there are other things that we could potentially try.”