BU’s Institute for Global Sustainability Launches Visualizing Energy Project

BU Experts
4 min readJan 17, 2023

New project features data-storytelling on the links between sustainable energy, health, and well-being.

By Katherine Gianni and Giana Carrozza

Boston University’s Institute for Global Sustainability (IGS) is kicking off the New Year with a new project launch. After months of consideration, planning, and research, the Visualizing Energy website made its formal debut on January 17. The project provides new opportunities for students, faculty members, the media, government agencies, and organizations alike to learn more about the issues surrounding climate change, energy justice, and renewable energy through storytelling, or the blending of scrolling and data-driven storytelling, interactive data mapping, and visualizations. How do people in Nigeria and Ghana experience energy insecurity? How has COVID-19 worsened energy insecurity in the United States? These are just a few of the questions Visualizing Energy data has already begun to answer.

To learn more about the project and its launch, we turned to two key collaborators: Dr. Cutler Cleveland and Dr. Heather Clifford. Dr. Cleveland serves as an IGS associate director and a professor within BU’s department of earth and environment. Dr. Clifford is a data scientist with IGS and has over six years of experience researching climate change and anthropogenic impacts on the environment. Together, they share insights on Visualizing Energy’s long and near-term goals, website resources, and how others can get involved.

Photo courtesy of Visualizing Energy.

What is the Visualizing Energy Project?

Visualizing Energy communicates facts on the link between sustainable energy and human well-being to decision-makers, media, companies, advocates, educators, and the public. We knit data analysis, visualizations, and the written word into stories that reveal how our energy system can be transformed to reduce inequity, steer humanity from climate disaster, improve health and other social outcomes, and lead to healthier natural systems. We address the energy system itself (sources, conversion, end use), economics (prices, investment, market failures), social outcomes (well-being, energy poverty, and climate justice), and environmental change (climate, pollution, and land and water use).

How does this initiative partner with BU’s Institute for Global Sustainability?

As a core project of IGS, Visualizing Energy helps “connect-the-dots” among the institute’s research areas of planetary and environmental health, climate governance, and energy systems, which are grounded in equity and justice, robust data science, and real-world impact. Visualizing Energy works to synthesize sustainability research data from across the university and beyond to visualize and broadly communicate important connections across disciplines.

What are the short-term and long-term goals for this project?

The short-term goal is to establish a strong brand in the area of sustainable energy transitions. Specifically, we want to establish a reputation as a source of trusted information on the connections among energy, equity, health, and climate change. We seek to have our content used in the media and in the classroom, and we’ll launch a robust social media program.

In the long run, we plan to expand the types of visualizations we support, including geospatial data and “scrollytelling,” (the blending of scrolling and data-driven storytelling) and establish strong partnerships with prominent media outlets. Our goal is to build sustained and strong collaborative relationships with academics and research organizations to stay on the leading edge of knowledge generation in this important space. We hope to be an incubator and focal point for new research in this space.

Why is it important to use data analysis and visualizations to address pressing societal issues such as climate change?

Visualizing Energy is rooted in the principle that reliable data, rigorous analysis, and communication to a wide swath of society are essential to sound decision-making and good citizenship. We are awash in data but deficient in the shared understanding of the interconnections among energy, society, and the environment. When coupled with rigorous analysis, visualization is essential to communicate with a broad audience. It reveals connections that are cumbersome in words. A good visualization makes it easier for the viewer to quickly understand the information presented, and to apply it to other situations.

Recently published data stories featured on the new Visualizing Energy website. Photo courtesy of Visualizing Energy.

What types of resources are available at the Visualizing Energy site?

All the data, visualizations, and original text are freely available to all users. For each visualization, we include an embed code, and downloadable files for data, metadata, and media. Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

Additionally, we actively share our visualizations and stories on our social media pages including LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter to reach and engage with a broader audience.

Who are the current collaborators? How can others (i.e., faculty members, students, related organizations) get involved in the future?

Our current collaborators at Boston University include faculty, staff, and students in the School of Public Health, the College of Communication, the Justice Media Co-Lab, BU SPARK!, and the Department of Earth and Environment (College of Arts and Sciences). Our external collaborators include the Environmental Justice Lab at the University of Indiana and the Global and Environmental Health Lab at York University.

We are open for business! We are actively seeking content partners from academia, think tanks, NGOs, and government agencies. We are eager to expand the audience and impact of research at the intersection of energy, climate, equity, and health.

Do you have data that tell a great story? Contact us to explore collaboration: https://visualizingenergy.org/get-involved/collaborators/.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Dr. Cutler Cleveland on Twitter at @cutlercleveland and Dr. Heather Clifford at @heather__cliff. For news and research updates from the Visualizing Energy Project and BU’s Institute for Global Sustainability follow @VisualizeEnergy and @IGS_BU.

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