Behavior change, greener living coming with new Facebook app?

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Facebook announced Monday the development of a new app designed to encourage people to practice energy efficiency in their homes by allowing users to compare data about their home energy usage with other app users.

The development of the app will be in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Opower, a home energy usage analysis company. Opower partnered with utility companies to enable homeowners to more accurately measure their energy consumption. The new Facebook effort is in contrast to more widely-known green building policies that drive public debate.

A non-partisan study of “high-performance” school buildings — also called “green buildings” — by the Washington State legislature found no conclusive evidence for claims that the new building designs would deliver the forecasted improvements. Recent trends to incorporate green technology into architecture design, without conclusive evidence of whether upgrades were truly effective, prompted concern by Washington State-based analyst Todd Myers, author of the book “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism Is Harming the Environment.”

Myers explained to The Daily Caller that green policy initiatives — like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) — are pursued largely for their electoral value, having little to do with actual benefit to energy savings, or improved worker productivity, as the proposals claim. The marketing of these initiatives are aimed towards the emotions of consumers, said Myers.

“These policies are more about image,” said Myers. “True policy cannot be measured for perhaps decades. Politicians only think through the next election cycle, and officials only want the plaque in recognition of their efforts.”

While LEED ratings are applied to various types of buildings, Myers argued that schools provide the perfect case study; school buildings within their respective districts are often similar in size and dimension.

“If you’re seeing green schools fail, there’s no reason to believe that others aren’t either,” said Mayers.

The Detroit News reported in 2006 that green school buildings were just as brown as their older and supposedly less-efficient counterparts.

Specifically, two schools — awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for their energy and environmental designs — were closed because the temperatures of a late spring heat wave made conditions unbearable for students to stay inside. While the designs of the schools were applauded by the USGBC for what it considered to be the energy saving measures, the designs failed to deflect the heat and keep the students cool.

“They made energy savings more important than keeping the school open,” said Myers.

Michael Knaack, Energy Conservation Manager at the Bethel School District in Spanaway, Washington, helped the school district save $3.5 million over six years. Knaack argues that educating people and encouraging behavior change, as the new Facebook app intends, is more effective in the long run.

“I get paid the salary of an average teacher,” Knaack told The Daily Caller. “For the cost of a teacher, having a person on staff like me will save school districts tremendous amounts of money.”

Knaack explained that encouraging behavior change can have a long-term benefits.

“The intangible benefit to this is that the children are watching adults make decisions about energy usage and tax payer dollars,” said Knaack. “I want people to remember that we are using taxpayer dollars to run these buildings, and I want the public to know that we are paying attention.”

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Josh Peterson