Students can pick a location and rate it on a variety of metrics: cleanliness, light quality, furniture quality, air quality and temperature.

Credit: Ellen Frierson

One student startup is making voting hot.

GreenVote, a sustainability-focused startup begun last year by three students in the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology, is a website that lets users give feedback to building administrators about conditions in campus buildings.

The app has recently earned a $30,000 Penn Green Fund grant from Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services and has started operations in Penn buildings.

Users can log in to the app through Google and Facebook. After logging in, they pick a location and then rate it on a variety of metrics: cleanliness, light quality, furniture quality, air quality and temperature. The app collects and summarizes this data and sends it over to building administrators in the form of graphs for each metric.

“The data [from GreenVote] may then be used by facilities managers to help make decisions to optimize building energy efficiency. Increased building energy efficiency supports the goals of Penn’s Climate Action Plan,” Ken Ogawa, FRES executive director of operations and maintenance, said in an email, pointing to that as the importance of having data on energy use.

“In the U.S. itself, about 60 percent of the energy used is because of HVAC,” Wharton and Engineering sophomore Arjun Jain said. “And it’s used pretty inefficiently. If you saved even 10 percent of that, that’s the equivalent of 125 million cars running on the road per year.”

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Penn’s current heating and cooling policy is to set one temperature for spring and another for winter for each building, according to the GreenVote team.

The project began in September of 2012, at that year’s PennApps Hackathon. Jain and fellow Wharton and Engineering sophomores Benedikt Lotter and Karan Hiremath, who were self-described “noobs” in the PennApps space, stumbled on to their idea.

“It was really nice outside, there was a good breeze and everything. But inside it was freezing,” Jain said of McClelland Hall where the Hackathon was held. “And we thought, wow, that’s pointless. We tried to find the person to tell, but we couldn’t find anyone.”

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Their temperature frustrations led them to the idea of an app that would allow people in buildings to communicate with building administrators to give real-time feedback.

In the spring of 2013, they went back to PennApps Hackathon and created what they call version 2.0, which they then started promoting to grant-giving agencies and building administrators. That was when they were first awarded their Green Fund grant.

FRES, who provided the grant money, also urged GreenVote to make the connections to building administrators. Finally, in early September, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Quad buildings — Towne, Moore, Levine and Skirkanich Halls — signed on to use the app

Users can still give feedback for buildings that currently do not use the app, but it “will only be acted on in Moore and Towne and such,” Jain added.

“Our next step is to get everyone on board,” Jain said. To better market the app, the team then reached out to the Undergraduate Assembly.

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“Right now, we’re looking to get some kind of critical mass to get students to start using GreenVote,” said UA representative and College junior Danielle Golub, who is the point person for collaboration with GreenVote.

Moving forward, the team is bursting with ideas on how to improve the app. They want to see social integration in the form of voting on other people’s votes, communication between building managers and student voters and even better designs for the app’s interface, among many others.

The team is still pushing for other buildings, like Huntsman and Williams Hall, to incorporate their app. “We have at least two meetings every week with someone at Penn,” Jain said.

The group is also in talks with Business Services about expanding the service to Penn dining facilities.

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