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Data and Evaluation

Overview

Some of this information is also found in the ‘measuring progress’ section

Many will be familiar with the adage: “what gets measured gets managed” (Peter Drucker). It’s a good beginning to many projects, and helps to build clarity around expectations and goals right from the beginning. In the Climate Leadership Commitments, for example, we have repeatedly heard how important it is that reporting remain a fundamental component of the work. Not only does it focus attention periodically, but forces you to consider progress against clear benchmarks and towards clear goals.

As we move into the second decade of the Climate Leadership Commitments however, there are lessons and considerations that can now be introduced as well. Much like standardized testing at K-12 schools, there is significant value in getting a snapshot understanding of a few key variables that indicate achievement against objective benchmarks. But similar to standardized testing there are also important limitations and additional considerations:

  1. The goal should not become about the reporting. The work of sustainability and climate action often integrates many components. Benefits can be created across numerous areas in social, economic, and environmental categories. Therefore, it’s important to use reporting as a tool for gauging progress and providing some communication of success, but remembering that it will not fully define progress nor provide the only tool for communication. Signatories are encouraged to consider reporting as a periodic opportunity to evaluate and assess rather than a major end in itself. As we know from the standardized testing analogy, some education has become more about ‘teaching to the test’, rather than about broadly facilitating learning, but the standardized test is only one method of evaluating students. Many schools and teachers employ ‘formative assessment’ as well. This means that the student is constantly evaluated; teaching methods, material, and learning environments can improve adaptively as more is understood about the student’s strengths and preferences for learning. The reporting goal at Second Nature is intended to bridge the gap between necessary, objective reporting that delivers a summary of progress against benchmarks and also to facilitate iterative learning and adaptive implementation. In 2016, the reporting system will be upgraded to facilitate more opportunity around the latter intent.
  2. There are benefits that go beyond measurable targets: Just because what gets measured gets managed, it doesn’t follow that the only things worth managing are those that can be measured. In other words, some of the biggest benefits are intangible and qualitative and they should not be given short-shrift. In order to keep the reporting element manageable and helpful, we are not requiring a report that is lengthy. We also don’t expect that progress on campuses will be limited to the things that we request as part of the Commitments reporting. For some of these less tangible elements (e.g. the awareness around sustainability in students, the lifelong learning potential of students, the diffusion of sustainability mindsets or principles beyond the campus, the reputation of the college, the leadership in the community etc), it is possible to develop indicators that give you some insight into part of the equation, but these indicators may not find their way into a reporting framework.
  3. Difference and Diversity: All campuses have a different balance of priorities and perspective. Planning, implementation, and activities should reflect these priorities and diversity, and celebrate the unique characteristics of the place and community. Reports often don’t reflect these elements very well, and that’s ok. They are but one tool in the box.

So, while reporting is critical, and Second Nature fully supports it through the commitment requirements, we will be folding the reporting component into a broader context of annual evaluation. The annual evaluation of progress required as part of the Commitments, is aimed at driving creative solutions, communicating progress against clear benchmarks, and iterative learning. The required reporting for the Carbon Commitment is not changing significantly, however, over the next couple of years (2015-2017), we will be recreating the reporting system as a tool  (and guidance) to accommodate a broader opportunity to learn and assess, and facilitating more flexibility, particularly as more campuses engage with resilience. If you wish to be part of a team to evaluate reporting (goals, requirements, tools), then please contact us: reporting@secondnature.org

Opportunities

It has been less than a decade since the iphone was introduced (2007) and the potential for generating, communicating, and analyzing data from anywhere in the world has exploded. Not only do we (sometimes unwittingly) collect data as we move through our daily lives, but we transmit it. And companies such as Amazon, Google and many others collect and analyze terabytes of data on a regular basis.

The opportunity that this new era of data presents is huge of course. From monitoring use of buildings, to snapping pictures of campus ‘trouble spots’ (flooding, leaks, non-functioning lights), to getting in touch with students during weather emergencies, mobile technology and data gathering will be part of the new suite of opportunities. The major challenge is likely to be curating the vast amount of potential data so that useful and manageable information might be derived.

In addition, technology, including geo-location information, and an evolving mindset will also help develop features like shared cars, bikes, goods, and other aspects of the sharing economy. This has potentially huge implications for reaching additional levels in the ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ approach.

Dynamic Energy Management Systems

One area where the application of new data systems is particularly exciting and relevant to sustainability work is in the area of energy management. New techniques and technologies make real-time monitoring and control of buildings and equipment easier and more available with the potential to greatly impact energy use on a campus.

Smart Metering

“Smart” meters allow for the real-time monitoring of energy use by a building or a particular piece of large equipment (such a air handler in an HVAC system). They can typically communicate wirelessly with a central location on campus and relay data about energy usage several times per hour. Energy managers are able to benefit from this data in several ways:

  • Data could be displayed to building occupants to help encourage them to conserve energy
  • Energy hungry equipment can be monitored closely to look for ways it could be used more efficiently
  • Any major changes in energy use over time are easily and quickly identified, possibly identifying malfunctioning systems
  • Researchers could be alerted to open fume hoods in their laboratory.
  • Allow for easy tracking and monitoring of any energy efficient equipment or projects that are installed, enabling cost savings to be easily tracked for a green revolving fund
  • The pattern of energy use throughout the day can be understood and changes in building operation altered accordingly. For example, if an academic building is not used much outside of the hours when classes are held but the building is consuming large amount of energy outside of those hours, adjustments could be made to lighting or HVAC systems to conserve energy in off hours.

Building Automation Systems

“Smart” systems can also be applied directly to building control making it possible to automate many building functions which has a high potential for energy savings. Some possibilities might include:

  • More dynamic HVAC controls allowing for shorter periods of heating or cooling
  • Windows or shades that respond to light, allowing rooms to be shaded from direct sunlight in the hottest portions of the day
  • Ventilation systems that can sense the number of building occupants (through CO2 sensors or number of mobile phone signatures) and ramp up or down air circulation accordingly (demand-controlled ventilation).

Examples of Data use and Dashboards etc

Smith College: http://buildingdashboard.net/smith/#/smith

University of North Carolina: https://itsapps.unc.edu/energy/

Prescott College: http://www.prescott.edu/explore/campus-and-fieldstations/energy-dashboard.php

University of Arizona: http://www.fm.arizona.edu/energydashboard/default.aspx

Bunker Hill Community College: http://www.bhcc.mass.edu/sustainability/

University of California, San Diego: http://energy.ucsd.edu/

Fairfield University: http://dashboards.fairfield.edu/Energy/#

The Reporting System

The Second Nature’s reporting system allows your institution to demonstrate transparency and integrity for your commitment and contributes to the collective learning of the network and general public.

The reporting system also allows you to track, assess, and communicate progress to your campus community and beyond, demonstrating to prospective students, foundations, and potential private sector partners that your institution is serious and transparent about its commitment to climate change and sustainability.

More information about what to report when, and how to interact with the system is available in our Commitments Implementation Guide