Philip Johnson, Professor and Director of the Collaborative Software Development Laboratory, discusses the Kukui Cup project.

What is the Kukui Cup Project?

The Kukui Cup Project ( explores novel ways to utilize concepts from information technology, community-based social marketing, serious games, and educational pedagogy to support sustained change in sustainability-related behaviors. The current focus of the Kukui Cup Project is residence hall energy challenges. In future, we plan to expand our scope to include other sustainability resources (water, waste, food, etc.) and other contexts (offices, residences, etc.)

A defining feature of Kukui Cup challenges is a blend of real world and online activities, all tied together through game mechanics. In the real world, players participate in workshops, scavenger hunts, artistic/musical events, win prizes, and most importantly, learn about their current lifestyle and its impact on sustainability behaviors. In the online Kukui Cup web application, players earn points, achieve badges, increase their sustainability “literacy” through readings and videos, and use social networking mechanisms to engage with friends and family about the issues raised. The challenge is designed to make real world and online activities complementary and synergistic.

Primary support for the Kukui Cup project comes from a $400,000 grant by the National Science Foundation.   In addition, we have received support from UH Housing, the Center for Renewable Energy and Island Sustainability, the Hawaii State Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, and other sources.

What has been accomplished so far?

The inaugural Kukui Cup was held from October 17 to November 6, 2011, for the 1,000 students living in the Hale Aloha residence hall complex at the University of Hawaii.  The Hale Aloha residence hall complex consists of four towers (Ilima, Lehua, Lokelani, and Mokihana), each housing approximately 250 students.    The residents of each of the four towers are divided into five “Lounges” of approximately 50 students each for a total of 20 Lounges across the entire Hale Aloha complex.  Lounges formed the group-level unit of competition for the Kukui Cup.  UH Housing installed meters to monitor energy consumed by each of the 20 Lounges.

Although we are still analyzing the data from the 2011 Kukui Cup challenge, here are some interesting findings:
  • Out of the 1,036 residents who were eligible to participate, approximately 418 tried the game, for a participation rate of approximately 40%.
  • According to our custom instrumentation, about 850 hours of time was spent on site. According to Apache Web Stats, there were 4,094 unique visitors and 170,000 page hits.
  • Participation was not evenly distributed across Lounges.  One Lounge had 74% participation.  Only 4 out the 20 Lounges achieved more than 40% participation, and 13 Lounges had less than 25% participation.  Our data seems to indicate that unless a significant (greater than 40%) participation is reached by a Lounge, then energy consumption is not significantly impacted.
  • There was great variability in energy conservation achieved during the challenge.   The best performing lounge was able to achieve a 16% reduction.
  • The method used to determine baseline energy consumption can make a substantial impact on the calculated reduction.  We calculated baselines using 1 week, 2 weeks, and 3 weeks of energy data prior to the challenge.  This choice could effect calculated reductions both positively and negatively, and in some cases by over 5%.  The impact of baseline calculation on energy reduction calculation is not addressed in the literature and creates problems for comparison and meta-analysis of energy data.
  • We administered a pre- and post-challenge questionnaire to assess changes to student knowledge, (self-reported) behavior, attitudes, group identity, and connectedness to nature.  We observed a statistically significant (p < 0.06) improvement in knowledge about energy for participants, with no significant change for non-participants.   Attitudes and behaviors did not show a statistically significant change. While not statistically significant, group identity actually decreased among participants, which raises the question of whether the Kukui Cup might “alienate” some participants from their neighboring (non-participant) residents!

What’s next?

In Fall of 2012, we are planning to hold the second Kukui Cup in the Hale Aloha residence halls at the University of Hawaii.  In addition, we are working with Hawaii Pacific University, the East-West Center, and Brigham Young University-Hawaii to hold Kukui Cup challenges on their campuses as well.   Creating an extensible and tailorable challenge and running it in multiple locations will enable us to assess the scalability of the Kukui Cup project.

How can students get involved?

We have lots of needs!  Of course, we need students who want to dive in and take their software development skills to the next level.  The Kukui Cup project involves two custom open source applications: WattDepot and Makahiki, which in turn require familiarity with a broad range of technologies including Java, Python, Django, Google Project Hosting, GitHub, agile development, responsive user interface design, REST API design, and others. In addition to software development skills, we also need other, “softer” skills including marketing, graphic design, communications, and video production.

For example, here is a short 3 minute video the Kukui Cup team produced about the 2011 challenge. 

For the past two years we have received funding from the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which has enabled us to hire several undergraduates each summer to work on the project. Of course, we also are funding masters and Ph.D. students with graduate research assistantships.  Finally, we have some dedicated volunteers who participate simply because it’s fun, interesting, and rewarding.

For more information:

See the Kukui Cup website publications page