Topic Resources

Tools Used
Initiated By
  • Action Research
Partners
  • The Urban Sustainability Directors Network
  • Municipal governments
Results
  • Computer monitor shutdown rates nearly doubled

Implementation Manual

“Taking Off? Turn Us Off” Office Computer Pilot

This pilot program used personal communication, norms, commitments, and prompts to engage government employees to turn off both their computers and monitors at the end of the workday. A control group was included in the evaluation design. The results revealed significant increases in computer shutdown rates in two out of the three participating agencies (the third agency had a baseline shutdown rate of nearly 90%). The most impressive findings were for computer monitor shutdown rates which nearly doubled in all three agencies.

Background

The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) is a peer-to-peer network of local government sustainability leaders formed to enable members to support and learn from each other so that they can more efficiently find solutions to their urban sustainability challenges. In 2012, the USDN collaborated with Action Research to conduct a multi-region community-based social marketing (CBSM) program that would reduce energy use by motivating government employees to turn off both their computer and monitor at the end of the workday and provide a turnkey strategy that would be replicable and scalable to other government agencies across the nation.

Getting Informed

Each participating government agency reviewed its own energy use profile, technical reports, and current levels of engagement in energy-saving actions.

Shutting down computers and monitors at the end of the workday was selected as the target behavior because the aggregate impact of shutting down the thousands of computers and monitors across a municipality was deemed to be significant. Calculations conducted at the time of the study indicated that the typical computer (CPU) used 100 watts/hour in “sleep” mode, and a 19” LCD monitor uses 25 watts/hour in sleep mode. Assuming 16 hours of inactivity per day (i.e., after an 8-hour workday), this translated to annual energy consumption of 582 kWh for the CPU and 146 kWh for the monitor—just for one computer, when not in use.

Barriers and benefits associated with turning off computers and monitors were identified through three stages of foundational research. First, participating sites scheduled meetings with Information Technology (IT) Managers to learn about technical and policy barriers to the behaviors and to gain project support. Second, employees were invited to participate in focus group discussions on the topic of power management and shutdown procedures. Finally, employees completed a web-based survey designed to gather quantitative information about the extent of the identified barriers and benefits in the target population. 

Priority Audiences

The pilot focused on local government employees in three geographic areas: Columbia, Missouri (midwestern US); Frederick County, Maryland (northeastern US); and Santa Clara County, California (southwestern US).

Delivering the Program

The campaign involved removing the identified barriers, highlighting financial savings to the organization, personal contact, a public commitment, and a prompt.

The program began with an initial email to employees communicating the existing IT policy for powering down at the end of the workday. This communication was followed with an in-person visit from staff or peer volunteers within the organization. The in-person communication included the following components (Personalized, Credible, Empowering Communication):

  • A brief informational flyer (half-sheet)
  • A commitment form for turning off computers and monitors at the end of the workday (Obtaining a Commitment)
  • The signed “Taking Off? Turn Us Off.” commitment was affixed to the lower left of the monitor serving as both a prompt and to make the commitment both public and durable.(Prompts; Building Motivation Over Time))

The following table summarizes the key barriers and how they were overcome. (Overcoming Specific Barriers)

Barrier

How it was addressed

 

Concerns over long start-up times

  • Startup times from a random sample of employee computers were collected to demonstrate that startup time is shorter than one might perceive.  This information was displayed (in seconds) on a half-page flyer.  Seconds were used in order to disrupt typical cognitive processes and ensure that the participant paid attention to the material.

Belief that monitors shut down when the computer is turned off

  • Employees were given clear instructions on shutdown that specifically addressed both computers and monitors separately.

 

  • A prompt/commitment card (business card size) that was strategically placed on the computer monitor near the logoff menu to remind employees of their commitment to shut down both the computer and monitor at the end of the workday.

 

Uncertainty about agency shutdown policy

  • Employees were sent an email communication from IT that clearly stated the agency policy and asked employees to participate in the behavior.

 

Measuring Achievements

The program impacts were pilot tested using a field experiment. Within each agency, offices or departments were randomly assigned to control or treatment groups. To evaluate impacts, we unobtrusively observed and counted the number of computers and monitors that were turned off at the end of the workday for both pilot (CBSM strategy) and control (informational email only) groups in each agency. Observations were conducted over a baseline period and then again following the implementation of the program. Pre-post shut down rates for the CBSM group were compared to those observed in the control groups who received only the email from IT.

Number of pre- and posttest observations by municipality. 

Municipality

Pretest Observations

Posttest Observations

 

Treatment

Control

Treatment

Control

Columbia

35

48

43

44

Frederick County

39

35

36

35

Santa Clara County

39

41

38

39

Persistence was not measured as evaluation was limited to the initial field experiment. Participating agencies were provided with recommendations to continue to evaluate the program through observations, computer-usage logs from IT, or energy use reports as available.

Results

Baseline observations showed that across all three organizations, 58% of computers and 21% of monitors were shutdown at the end of the day. For employees in the control condition, who received only an informational email, there was a moderate increase in computer and monitor shutdown: 64% of computers and 23% of monitors in the control condition were shut down during the post-treatment period. However, for employees who received the full program (email + commitment + prompt), observed shutdown rates were 72% for computers and 53% of monitors. Overall, the results were most impressive for computer monitor shutdown. 

While the effect of shutting down one computer may be small, the combined effect of shutting down even half of a municipality’s computers and monitors can contribute significantly to municipal energy-saving initiatives. The table below displays estimates for energy saving impacts per 1,000 employees.

Estimates of energy savings impacts 

Workstation

Average Watts (Inactive)

Hours/Day (Inactive)

Hours/Year

(Inactive)

kWh/Year

(Inactive)

Per 1,000 Employees

Assume 50%

Left On

Desktop Computer (CPU)

100

16

5,824

582.4 kWh/ computer

582,400 kWh

291,200 kWh

19” LCD

25

16

5,824

145.6 kWh/ monitor

145,600 kWh

72,800 kWh

TOTAL

125

16

5,824

728 kWh per workstation

728,000 kWh

364,000 kWh

 

Contacts

Jennifer Tabanico
President, Action Research
760-722-4001

Notes

This project developed a turnkey outreach strategy that has demonstrated efficacy across a wide range of contexts. Through the USDN, the final program strategy is available to program planners across North America who may want to deploy the program in their communities.

As this was a pilot study, it only involved a few hundred people. While the effect of shutting down their computers may be small, the combined effect of shutting down even half of a municipality’s computers and monitors can contribute significantly to municipal energy-saving initiatives. For a small city the size of Columbia, Missouri (assuming 1,000 employees are shutting down) these savings translate to: 257 Metric tons CO2; the annual GHG from 54 passenger vehicles; or, the CO2 emissions from electricity use of 38 homes for one year. The aggregate impacts are even more impressive. If 20 small cities were to successfully implement this program (assuming 20,000 employees are shutting down), this would translate to a savings of: 5,136 Metric tons CO2; the annual GHG from 1,070 passenger vehicles; or, the CO2 emissions from electricity use of 769 homes for one year (see EPA GHG Equivalency Calculator at http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html).

Additional impacts associated with this program would come through implementation of the turnkey strategy that could be applied in other regions. The quality of programs delivered by governmental agencies is often contingent on the time and financial resources that they can bring to the task. In many cases, lack of knowledge, staff time and financial resources result in agencies delivering programs that are far from optimal.

Through the USDN, the final program strategy is available to program planners across North America who may want to deploy the program in their communities. An implementation manual was developed which includes all of the program templates, research and evaluation tools, scripts, and other instructions for effectively implementing and evaluating the “Taking Off? Turn Us Off.” Program. The materials are available through the USDN: https://www.usdn.org/public/page/31/Energy#EmployeeCampaign

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