Urban Spring Smart Hub
If I was a sea turtle, I would probably not be wishing the absolute best for humans. Or if I was a whale. Or a seal. What is with this particular selection of animals, you ask?
All their lives are endangered by the prevalence of (cue sad, angry drum rolls) plastic pollution. While our planet is drowning in plastic pollution – literally, it has not one reason behind it, but many. One of the most hazardous causes, however, is the usage of plastic bottles. An alarming number – 1,000,000, one with six big, fat zeros behind it – one million is the number of plastic drinking bottles purchased every one minute, that is just in a span of 60 seconds – a contrastingly small number of seconds on the other hand. And all of this plastic is disposed of just as quickly – into landfills, roadsides, rivers, seas, and all over the place.1 Plastics being chemically manufactured, and non-biodegradable are detrimental to the planet as well as every living being present on it. This leads us to draw the conclusion that this clearly distressing situation right in front of our eyes needs something to be done about it so as to safe keep out mother earth for future generations.
Taking matters into hand, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has undertaken the Urban Spring Smart Hub project under its Sustainable Smart Campus as a Living Lab initiative.
Urban Spring Smart Hub has been plugged into almost 50 standard mechanical drinking water dispensers to read water consumption & operational data in order to enable efficient drinking water facility management as well as to inculcate the value of reusing one’s own bottle for drinking water each time and demystifying the water quality to the HKUST community.
While this entire system not only encourages all the members of HKUST to bring their own bottles and consume less disposable water and unsustainable packaging, it also aims at increasing operational efficiency by providing a smart approach to managing water resources on campus. Critical information facilitates better maintenance of the water resources such as water leakage and filter capacity by connecting to a cloud database with NB-IoT connectivity. Users will also be able to see their collective and personal footprints regarding single-use plastic bottles and water consumption on an easily accessible dashboard display. It also focuses on cultivating the Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) behavior through multi-level data visualization and innovative user interaction.
In an interview with Katherine Lam, the Director of Business Analytics from Urban Springs HK, and Prof. Meike Saurwein, from the HKUST Division of Environment and Sustainability, talked about the project and reflected on their key milestones and how nudging people in a certain direction to take action for the environment makes a difference and helps in identifying what the bottlenecks are for the same. Ms. Lam put emphasis on data analytics, which has aided in providing annual reports with regard to the usage of dispensers, the refilling behavior of their end-users, the amount of water is being dispensed, and peak hour. The analytics say that as high as 70 liters a day at the Jockey Club Hall. Both Ms. Lam and Prof. Saurwein agreed that they hope to improve the general public perception about the quality of water from water dispensers and have been doing workshops over the last year to raise awareness to have a better idea of how we can use these different tools to solve user problems.
They are hoping to make use of life cycle assessment-based data to show how they are making a difference within the campus and showing the alternative health and environmental impacts. Prof. Saurwein also emphasized how they want people to have a clearer understanding of how every person has a contribution, and visualize the impact as more and more people are doing sustainable practices over long periods of time and how the project aims to change people's behavior in an easier way that is able to make lasting impacts.
While what may seem like small steps to take, or feel too mundane to do in order to save the earth, it is these small steps that we take and small choices that we make every day that have the power to make a difference in making the future sustainable and green. With every single person carrying their own bottle, the number of disposable bottles consumed by the HKUST community reduces as a whole, and as a community, we march one step closer to fighting climate change (and might have a higher chance of befriending seals too :)