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 Residence Energy Challenge

Posted on Wednesday, Mar. 2, 2011

In its second year, the Residence Energy Challenge (REC) is making a big impression across campus. Now open to off-campus houses and apartments, the Challenge is a way for all SCU students to get involved with sustainability and learn how to save energy.

It all began in 2009...
The REC was inspired by similar challenges at other universities across the country, including Duke and Ohio University. The Housing Office had multiple initiatives to encouraged energy conservation in the past. When invited to co-sponsor the Residence Energy Challenge, they enthusiastically agreed to sponsor last year's grand prize of fifty tickets to Sky High. The first annual Residence Energy Challenge was open to all residence halls but lasted only three weeks.

In the meantime, former Associated Student Government (ASG) vice president Katherine Quinn-Shea approached the Office of Sustainability with her idea of an energy-saving competition for off-campus houses. Part of her platform was to strengthen the connections of students living off-campus to what was happening on-campus, and she thought this program would be a good way to accomplish both goals. The first iteration of the off-campus energy challenge ran for all of Spring quarter 2010 and included seven houses. The winning house was reimbursed for its energy bills throughout the quarter.

Longer competition, now on- and off-campus!
Since both programs last year were so successful, the Office of Sustainability decided to have both energy challenges at the same time so students could be working simultaneously to reduce energy use. The on-campus challenge began Week 1 of Winter Quarter with a trial period. Each building’s weekly electricity usage is compared to its historical usage for that week (averaging each buildings' 2008-2010 consumption). The residence hall that reduces the most compared to past years wins. This year, the Housing Office is encouraging winning residents to choose their prize: a communal PlayStation or Nintendo Wii, tickets to a Giants baseball game (10 tickets/ton CO2 avoided) or a donation of water filters to a Honduras village in the name of the building's residents.

Eight houses and apartments are competing to see who can reduce their per-capita energy use the most during the quarter, as compared to their usage in October of 2010. Each month, housemates submit their energy bills to the Office of Sustainability. The winning house will be reimbursed up to $300 for their bills during Winter quarter, and there will also be a prize for the most enthusiastic house.

Residents thinking about their behaviors
Residents have been encouraged to use natural lighting, unplug unused cell phone and computer chargers, study in the library, wash laundry in cold water, and to turn off lights when they leave the bathrooms. (Watch a video starring several SCU students). Kristen Lee from Modern Perspectives (Dunne Hall) said she is “unplugging all my unused appliances, such as my TV, when I'm not using it. I also turn off the lights in common areas when I see them on with no one inside the room.” Tyler Marting from CyPhi (Swig Hall) said, “I have been trying to help my RLC by turning off the lights in the bathrooms when no one is there.” Residence Hall staff are promoting energy-saving behaviors through signage, socials, and conversations. These actions can help each RLC earn points for enthusiasm.

Senior Cara Uy, who lives in Lovehouse, is excited to be participating in the Challenge for the second time. Lovehouse reduced their energy consumption last year, but didn’t win the competition. This year, they are determined to clinch the prize. Uy says she and her housemates are sharing more, such as cooking together instead of turning the oven on four separate times. When asked if their energy-saving habits will stay with them after the Challenge ends, Uy replied, “We think so. As the Challenge goes on, these actions will be more ingrained in all of the 'lovemates' so that it will transform into good habits for the future.” Perhaps most importantly, the energy-saving challenge has encouraged them to be live more sustainably overall. “We discuss material and earth sustainability as well as being physically and emotionally healthy too,” she said.

It's not always easy
Some students experience resistance or frustration to changing behavior. Greg Semenza and Mike Dessel of The Big Green, the house currently in the lead (17 percent reduction overall), report “the challenge has led to some persistent disputes about what we should be doing to save energy.” Whereas some of the house’s six residents have committed to “pull all the plugs to win the challenge” others have resisted to altering old habits.

Campus events promote energy conservation
Several events throughout the quarter promoted sustainability and raised awareness around energy consumption. SCU’s first ever Eco-Fashion Show (Feb. 3) spearheaded by the GREEN Club, involved student designers showcasing their chic repurposed, recycled, and environmentally friendly apparel. Models strutted the runway in outfits ranging from hand-sewn vests to extravagant ball gowns made out of newspaper. (Watch a video from the event). Additionally, a Low-Carbon Dinner will occur Benson during week 10 to encourage eating local and increase knowledge about the amount of energy it takes to transport food.

Learn more about the Residence Energy Challenge, and see which residence hall and house is in the lead.

By Hannah Slocum, '11 and Chloe Fitzmaurice-Shean,'12, Sustainability Interns.

Tags: Buildings, Campus Operations, Climate Neutrality, Co-Curricular Education, Commitments and Policies, Energy, Events, Program Highlights, Residence Life