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Energy Campaign Cuts Consumption Among First-Years

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Charlie Goulding

Small changes can make huge differences, especially with regard to energy conservation. This fall, Senior Ben Wessler, in collaboration with the Office of Environmental Affairs (OEA), the Student Government Association and a new group of students known as the Environmental Liaisons (EL), set out to prove this point in creative and inspired fashion. Throughout the month of November, Wessler and EL staged a contest between three first-year dorms to see which building could collectively lower its energy use most significantly. Attached to each of those dorms — Battell Hall, Allen Hall and Stewart Hall — is a meter measuring energy usage in kilowatts per hour. Wessler consulted the meters weekly to monitor each dorm’s progress. By the end of the four-week period, a winner had been declared.
Since the beginning of the fall term, Wessler and the OEA had been developing the idea for a contest of some sort to promote the conservation of energy in residence halls. To effectuate the idea, Wessler and the OEA elicited the help of the upstart group of students known as the Environmental Liasons.
Each member of the EL was selected via an application process to serve as a liaison between the OEA and the particular commons each member had been chosen to represent.
Wessler and the EL went to each of the three dormitories and broached the idea of an energy consumption contest. Wonnocott EL representative Lynn Zummo ’06 recalled, “We held a big meeting in the second floor of Battell South and got everyone excited about the contest. We talked about the different things we could do to reduce energy use and tried to make people more aware of how much of a difference could be made.”
Wessler identified three main ways in which energy consumption in dormitories could be dramatically reduced: “The first thing we told everyone to do was to turn all lights off when leaving their rooms.
Secondly, we urged people to turn their computers off if they haven’t been in use for two or more hours. The third thing we focused on was music. We told them to turn their stereos down or off when they weren’t listening to music or were leaving the room.”
Wessler and the EL supplemented the initial meetings with posters and constant encouragement.
“We tried to hang posters in places where they’d be helpful,” stated Zummo, “like in the bathroom next to the light switch so that people would remember to turn the lights off if no one else was left.”
By the end of the four-week period, each of the three dorm meters registered a precipitous drop in energy usage.
Stewart averaged a 6.7 percent reduction in usage per week.
Battell finished with a 10 percent average decrease and Allen ran away with the grand prize by reducing its energy usage by a weekly average of 12.9 percent.
Cook Commons representative J.C. Woodward ’04 noted, “Along with the amazing efforts of the Allen Hall residents, we were able to remove every other light fixture in the hallways out of Allen without falling out of compliance with safety regulations.” Similar procedures were not possible for the other two dormitories.
The substantial drops in all three dormitories speak to the ability of a small group of students to effect major change. Wessler stated, “What was great was that these were everyday changes which can be encouraged and promoted continuously. We’re not asking for paradigm shifts here. We’ve shown what can happen when people simply act responsibly.”
Woodward added that the numerical figures give special credence to the findings, which he believes will have a significant influence on First-years and the College as a whole.
The choice to conduct the experiment using first-year dormitories is two fold. From a technical standpoint, each of the three entirely first-year dorms is equipped with the energy meters needed to conduct the experiment, while others are not.
Furthermore, there is a malleability to the habits and behaviors of First-year students that is not as readily evident in older students. Wessler commented, “We felt it was important to introduce the importance of environmentally sound decisions to a new group of students. Also, since most of the EL members are first-years, the experiment offered them a unique chance to interact with and provide leadership for their peers.”
Despite the encouraging success of the project, Wessler, EL and the OEA hope to imbue the rest of campus with the same lessons learned during the November experiment. Woodward has already taken steps in this direction. On Jan. 28, Woodward and the Environmental Council, an SGA body, kicked off an environmental film series with the showing of “Empty Oceans, Empty Nets.” According to Woodward, one of the primary themes of the film series is to show how “everything you do has an effect on the world around you.”
While awareness is indeed a critical component of fostering change, the maintenance of that awareness is of equal import. Wessler, the EL and the OEA encourage anyone who is interested to consult his or her commons office to find out how to help.
The newly-formed EL is comprised of: Cory Lowe (Atwater), Skye Borden (Brainerd) Katie Hayo (Cook), J.S. Woodward (Cook), Lynn Zummo (Wonnacott) and Asher Burns-Burg (SGA representative).

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