This is the first post in our Data Visualization in Education series where we showcase how different universities are using data visualization in a meaningful way.
University at Buffalo (UB), The State University of New York (SUNY) is a public research university with multiple campuses located in Buffalo and Amherst, New York, United States. By enrollment, UB is the largest of SUNY’s four comprehensive university centers, and also the largest public university in the northeastern United States (comprising New York state and the New England region). In addition, by either endowment or research funding, UB is also the largest of SUNY’s four comprehensive flagship university centers.
In terms of size, University at Buffalo could well pass off as a small city with hundreds of buildings, several roads and thousands of students, faculty and staff members utilizing its various facilities. As a result, their environmental footprint was significant. However, as an early signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, UB developed a comprehensive strategic plan to minimize their adverse impact on the environment. Their Climate Action Plan calls for UB to become climate neutral by 2030.
As part of this initiative, UB has created The Sustainability Dashboard. Developed in partnership between UB’s divisions of Finance and Administration, and University Life and Services, the Sustainability Dashboard tracks real-time electricity usage in more than 145 buildings of the North and South campuses of UB. It also uploads data on water consumption, solar-power generation, natural gas use and other information.
Sensors installed in all the buildings measure resource consumption. Dataloggers take measurements from the sensors at specified time intervals, process the data, and send it to servers. The server stores and further processes thousands of data points gathered each month, all in real-time. Processed data is then broadcast to the internet and displayed in the dashboard, all within one minute of being collected.
The Sustainability Dashboard
Laura Hubbard, VP for Finance and Administration at UB, point out that the dashboard is a practical and forward-leaning tool that will help the university reduce its utility costs. “The Sustainability Dashboard empowers students, faculty and staff with real-time information that they can use to change how much power a building consumes, or how much material is recycled. These are the types of activities that will help UB achieve its goal of being a more-efficient university.”
The dashboard tracks the performance of more than 145 buildings–from academic complexes to sports facilities to residential apartments in the university. It has several interactive and intuitive features.
Tooltips are used to pack in additional information about data points. (Related read: How tooltips can be used to delegate detailed info?)
The color change of the bulb gauge visually brings out the percentage increase or decrease in consumption (the redder the bulb, more is the percentage increase; greener the bulb, more is the percentage decrease).
Users have several options to choose from for analysis. They can select between any two buildings for comparison.
They can select a timescale for comparison.
Users can also select a unit equivalent for comparison. Apart from the standard units of measure, such as kilowatt hours, they can also see what their energy consumption measures up to in dollar terms, carbon dioxide emissions, hamburgers consumed and other user-friendly comparisons.
The idea is to stimulate friendly competitions among students, faculty and staff to be more sustainable. As Ryan McPherson, Chief Sustainability Officer at UB, point out “Tracking kilowatt hours might not resonate with everyone. These alternative comparisons help make the information user-friendly and give people the ability to visualize their use of electricity and other resources. We want to engage the UB community and inspire people to find ways to make the university more sustainable.”
The dashboard also shares Green Tips with users to further the cause of sustainability and climate neutrality.
The way forward
UB and National Grid are exploring a partnership to expand the dashboard concept with interactive kiosks. Placed across the university, the kiosks would provide another way to access real-time information and help UB achieve its climate neutrality goal.
With the Sustainability Dashboard, University at Buffalo provides its major stakeholders visibility into their environmental footprints. By empowering them with information, UB is making effective use of data visualization to fulfill its commitment of becoming climate neutral and creating a more sustainable future.
In the next post of this series, read how Cornell University is using Data Visualization to realize the values of diversity and inclusion.