Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science

First Advisor

Gerhard Fischer

Second Advisor

Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez

Third Advisor

Kris Eisenberg

Fourth Advisor

Leaf van Boven

Fifth Advisor

Tom Yeh


Energy consumption is unsustainably high. To lower it to more sustainable levels, technological innovations such as improvements in efficiency of devices alone are not sufficient. People need to change their behaviors to use energy more efficiently. One promising approach to reach this goal is to motivate and help people to change their energy-relevant behaviors with the help of socio-technical systems (STS). In this thesis, I am presenting two theoretical frameworks, EnergySigns and SocialEnergy that apply established theoretical concepts to the design of STS in support of motivating people to save energy. EnergySigns is applying Peirce's theory of semiotics to the design of energy representations, SocialEnergy is adapting the social psychological concepts of social norms and social proof to the design of energy feedback systems. The frameworks provide guidelines how to create systems that are likely to encourage people to save energy. I introduce a socio-technical energy feedback system based on these frameworks called EMPIRE (Empowering People in Reducing Energy Consumption) which has been evaluated in experimental studies via Amazon Mechanical Turk and has been deployed to University of Colorado students. The evaluation showed that systems based on the theoretical framework were effective in motivating people to save energy and that more work was necessary to create systems that consumers can use on a daily basis. I used these findings to refine the frameworks, update the system design, and identify application contexts in which the system could be evaluated in more depth. My research is important because a change in energy behaviors is necessary to reduce energy consumption. My research has made theoretical, practical, and empirical contributions to the fields of social computing and sustainable HCI. EnergySigns and SocialEnergy deepened the understanding of how people can be motivated through STS, EMPIRE showcased how a system can implement these, and the empirical studies showed that STS can motivate people to save energy.