Green tech innovator Greensense is expanding its ability to “close the gap” in building performance with new projects including an installation for UniLodge and Frasers Property at Central Park in Sydney.

Digital posterboards have been installed at The Steps, a new 770-bed student accommodation building designed to high sustainability standards, and which uses energy from the precinct’s trigeneration plant. The posterboards showcase “stories” about the building, its performance and energy use, and also provide information to help residents make sustainable choices around transport and resource consumption.

Greensense director Pete Tickler said the goal of the technology was to tackle the “challenge of occupants”, to ensure that buildings designed for high performance are occupied and used in ways that ensure they actually perform well.

“High performance buildings often underperform because engineers struggle to model people,” Mr Tickler said.

The company aims to make building information around energy, water, thermal comfort and resource use meaningful to occupants to encourage engagement and to educate them on sustainable behaviours.

It has been installed in dozens of projects, including a major supermarket chain, local council buildings, the new Geelong Library, commercial offices including ANZ Castlereagh St, Curtin University, Melbourne University’s new School of Design and ANU’s Green Star student accommodation building, Lena Karmel.

There is also growing interest in South East Asia and the Middle East, with a number of projects completed to date. Mr Tickler said the firm has relationships with a number of ESD consultants working in these regions, including Arup, using the technology in their projects.

In the commercial property sector, Mr Tickler said there were clear drivers in rating systems – including Green Star, LEED and BREEAM – for installing this type of information and engagement tool.

Some other clients have been focused on the benefits for technical staff, including facilities managers. And there is another client base of building owners that are motivated by wanting to showcase the investments that have been made in adding ESD initiatives to their buildings.

“Many of those [sustainability] initiatives are invisible, so the questions for them is, ‘How do we as an industry showcase those achievements so occupants, the property market, our customers and our clients are aware of them?’” Mr Tickler said.

Occupant engagement and delivering learning resources was crucial, he said, because, “while people might have all these sustainable behaviours at home, when they come to the office they leave them at the door, mostly because they have a poor connection to the building”.

Occupants can also “subvert the building”. For example, when it is not explained how a system such as mixed-mode ventilation works, they are more likely to use the system in inefficient ways. That then compromises the building’s energy efficiency.

The posterboards are integrated with the building’s big data, but because it is likely the display will only have “a few seconds of their time”, the key is to make the messaging simple and engaging.

The early versions of the technology focused on energy use, water use, and things like what the solar PV system is doing, Mr Tickler said. More recent iterations are adding in data such as when the next tram is likely to arrive. Some projects are integrating the messaging also with a social media feed such as Twitter.

And one new project, for a client that wants the building to attempt a WELL rating, will be displaying health-related information at standup desk workstations about how many calories the worker has burned by standing versus sitting, and how many minutes of sitting or standing they have done.

“We are always looking for more interesting data sources. For example, [indoor environment quality], we can integrate that with the BMS and tell people what the temperature and CO2 levels are doing,” Mr Tickler said.

This has other benefits, he said, in that people were “less likely to feel grumpy about life” and complain about being too hot or cold if they knew what was actually happening.

Mr Tickler said the aim was to make the initiatives “more tangible” for occupants.

At Lena Karmel, ANU wanted to encourage students to use the stairs more often. So sensors were installed that track how many times the stairwell is used, and this is integrated with the energy data to show how resident’s choices to not use lifts benefit the building’s energy performance.

The residents also regularly have competitions between floors as to who can use the least energy and water, with rewards such as BBQs.

“Competition is one of the themes we will riff off around engagement,” Mr Tickler said.

“In the Australian psyche, that will work quite well.”

In addition to the technology products, Greensense provides consulting and strategies for occupant engagement that are more purely behaviour-based, such as encouraging occupants of a council building to hold an energy-saving competition between departments or floors.

Mr Tickler said the definition of successful engagement is “complex” in the commercial sector. There is a real need to understand the characteristics of the audience, including age and other demographic elements.

“You have to be giving them information that’s relevant to them.

“For example, ‘base building’ is a pretty useless term to show any guy who is based in a cubicle on the 25th floor.”

More relevant to that worker, he said, would be information about how much printing he’s done compared to others, as printing uses energy, paper and other resources.

“If you are going to stay up in the clouds with high level stories, you are not going to motivate anyone to do anything,” Mr Tickler said.

The more that people went into the “day-to-day things that are fairly subtle”, such as switching monitors off properly, the more they could “struggle to visualise the energy impact”, he said.

But if they change the behaviour in small actions, as you multiply them across the building, they become material.