Environmental dashboard now in use at Great Lakes Science Center

Jason Hawk | Oberlin News-Tribune
Rowan Hannon, project leader for the Cleveland Environmental Dashboard, introduces Oberlin College students working on the effort.


A tool invented in Oberlin for keeping a watchful eye on energy and water use is now an exhibit at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland.

The Environmental Dashboard has been in use for a decade. You can find 20 of the screens mounted in spots around Oberlin.

As this story is being written, they show that each person in town is using 1.7 kilowatts of electricity for a total of 14,143 kilowatts citywide.

The drinking water treatment plant is 79 percent full. Plum Creek is 20 inches deep and its waters are one degree above freezing. The wind speed is 3.1 miles per hour.

The dashboards tell the story of how humans are using our resources — a story that students in John Petersen’s ecological communications class at Oberlin College want Clevelanders to know.

With $170,000 in grants from the Cleveland Foundation, they installed a dashboard at the science center in early October.

The interactive exhibit shows energy use inside the building and throughout the Greater Cleveland area, as well as Lake Erie water conditions and data on air quality.

The goal is to raise awareness of climate change, said student Deena Saadi during a presentation earlier this month at Kendal at Oberlin’s Heiser Auditorium.

Petersen’s undergrads explained how they are using Environmental Dashboards in Oberlin to advance the city’s Climate Action Plan, which was updated earlier this year.

The plan calls for Oberlin to be climate-positive by 2050.

“It’s not just the city’s Climate Action Plan. It’s the community’s,” Saadi said, calling for people to get involved in the effort to reduce carbon emissions and resource use.

Everyone needs to feel they are part of the sustainability movement, she said.

To advance the same message in Cleveland, the Great Lakes Science Center exhibit uses cartoon characters Flash and Wally — a white squirrel and a walleyed fish. When electricity use drops, Flash gets happy, and when water quality takes a dive, Wally gets annoyed.

Students said they are using the characters to tie visitors’ emotional responses to environmental messages.

They’re also studying who the dashboard reaches. So far, most people who look at it are ages five to 15 and 25 to 50, according to student Alita Boyse-Peacor.

Most are also white, which students said is important to note because too often people of color are left out of environmental efforts.

Next up: Project lead Rowan Hannon said an app is in development that will allow you to access dashboard data from your phone.