AMS The Student Hotel as living lab


How do gifts, commitment and feedback influence people’s energy saving behavior? By subjecting students and hotel guests to multiple social interventions, we’re hoping to find out. Set up in collaboration with The Student Hotel, Alliander, Bectro and Wageningen UR, this research project sheds light on ways to reduce energy and water consumption in places where its users don’t pay the bill.

At the moment many energy conservation measures rely on financial incentives to stimulate people to change their behavior. The project ‘Saving energy when others pay the bill’ studies non-financial incentives that promote the reduction of energy and water usage.


Photo: Gift giving intervention: students and hotel guests receive a gift, accompanied by a note thanking them for participating in the hotel’s energy conservation initiative. Making use of extensive measurement equipment, the researchers are able to monitor whether the gift changed their energy consumption.

Why look into social incentives? Isn’t financial gain a more decisive factor for people to turn down their thermostat?
Money is definitely an important driver when it comes to saving energy. It’s however often overlooked that a major share of energy use happens in places where people are not paying the electricity bill themselves. So to reduce the energy consumption in for example offices, hotels and energy-inclusive rental homes, it’s imperative to find out what other incentives could motivate people to use less water and energy.

The Student Hotel is the living lab of this project. What is going to happen there?
The students and hotel guests are subjected to social and technological interventions promoting energy conservation throughout their stay. With the extensive measuring equipment installed by Bectro Installatietechniek, we’re able to exactly monitor the energy and water used by each participant. With this data we can accurately determine the effects of the interventions on their energy and water use. We combine this with questionnaires in which we also assess people’s attitude towards the environment, self-reported environmental behavior, and other relevant variables.

What kind of interventions can we expect?
To study the effect of gift giving for example, participants receive a present, accompanied by a note telling them The Student Hotel is trying to reduce its environmental impact. To gain more insight into commitment, some students are asked to sign a form stating they’re committed to saving energy during their stay at the hotel. Other interventions focus on the way people thing about their water use, for instance by comparing the difference in water consumption between participants who’ve been asked to think about why they should reduce their water use and participants who’ve been asked to think about how they could reduce their water use. The technological interventions focus on changing and measuring the way people use and experience energy saving technologies.

Why use the Student Hotel as living lab instead of different hotels or student housing?
The students living at The Student Hotel are obliged to move out after one year, and hotel guests only stay for a short period of time. This means we have a constant flow of new participants in the same environment who have no prior knowledge of previous research, which is a pretty unique situation. It also allows us to study the effectiveness of our interventions on two groups simultaneously: the long-stay guests (the students) and short-stay guests (the hotel guests). To our knowledge, there is no such ‘hotel as a social research lab’ anywhere else in the world. As a result, this setting has high scientific potential and can lead to new theoretical insights.

What will be the practical outcome of this research?
It should result in a practical guide for organizations like hotels, schools, companies and care homes that want to stimulate energy conservation in situations where financial incentives may not work or are difficult to implement. Additionally, the installation sector can use insights gained from these studies to improve the design of new systems, and in particular how energy saving technology is perceived and used. Lastly, this project offers many opportunities to disseminate information about energy conservation to a wider audience: at the end of the academic year workshops will be organized for participants, to make them familiar with the goals, progress and results of the studies. The results will also be presented in the ‘Class of 2020’ magazine, during conferences, in journals, on the project website, and through other channels.

Full project description: Saving energy when others pay the bill

Project website:

Project duration: May 2014 – no end date

Partners: Wageningen UR, The Student Hotel, Bectro Installatietechniek, Alliander