Water Under the Bridge

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Photo credit: Jonathan Rausseo

A funny thing happened the other day. As it turns out I was slogging away at the annual Campus Sustainability Report (which is a giant document which sucks up weeks of my time) when I started to create a simple block diagram. You see, I thought to myself that this year I would create infographics to help explain everything happening on campus.

For those of you that don’t know, an infographic is a visualization of a set of data that is packaged into a simple graphic. Unlike pure data visualization, an infographic doesn’t always take an enormous amount of data, but it does take a bunch of complicated concepts and displays them in a simpler and more pleasing manner.

Anyways, I was making infographics for the annual report because of the complexity of a lot of the Sustainability Data that the University generates. It is sometimes really hard to interpret the scale of the data that comes out of these reports. I will give you an example; in 2010 the University of Ottawa used over 600,000 cubic meters of water. What the hell does this mean? Does anyone even know what a cubic meter looks like or what it feels like?

I personally believe that information becomes more accessible when people can fully understand it. When you understand something you can more easily manipulate it in your mind. And if you can relate to the information in a more personal way, my hope is that people will try to take more actions.

So there I was making a block diagram (as seen above). This diagram shows the consumption of water on campus by building. Each block is representative of the portion of water the building consumes with respects to the rest of the campus. The blocks are colour coded so that you can see the major functions of the laboratory (i.e. laboratory, offices, residence, etc…)

I finished the infographic and then it just happened. I looked at the blocks and BAM… I noticed the big consumers on campus; one of those big consumers being the Tabaret building. The Tabaret building?!?!? That doesn’t make any sense. Tabaret doesn’t have any laboratories, it doesn’t do massive research, it doesn’t have a bunch of showers, it doesn’t have a pool, whatever… I could go on like this for a while.

So like any good office drone, I went and gave this information to my boss. He looked at it and said, “Well, you see… the building… there are sometimes leaks….hold on a moment.” He took the infographic, went down to visit the plumbers, and an investigation was started. Essentially, the building is consuming $60,000 more than it should and now our plumbers are on it.

I felt pretty reassured about this news. My theory about seeing information in different formats paid off. Everyone had the information before; it’s just that a giant Excel table with hundreds of buildings on it doesn’t speak to you as much as a colourful assortment of boxes. So I am going to share a series of infographics with you ahead of the release of my official report. I am doing this because maybe your eyes will see something else I didn’t. Maybe you can find something else that will help make this campus greener.

Check out the water initiatives on campus at our website


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