March 14, 2012

C.U. Competes to Reduce Energy Use

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Cornell University has saved $9,952 and prevented 56,421 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere through its participation in a conservation program called Compete to Reduce, according to Katie Fink ’12, and intern in the Office of Sustainability.The competition, which started on Feb. 6, consists of two parts: Campus Conservation Nationals, which ended at Cornell at the end of February, and Recyclemania, which will run until April.The Campus Conservation Nationals competition compared the energy consumption rates of residence halls, Greek houses and program houses on campus. Energy meters tracked the number of kilowatt hours used between Feb. 6 and Feb. 26 in each building. The Alpha Xi Delta sorority house, located on North Campus, finished the contest on top by reducing its consumption 24.3 percent during the time period. Participating buildings — which included all of the West Campus Dorms and Greek Houses at Cornell — conserved a total of 62,206 kilowatt hours over the course of the event. There was no overall goal set for the competition.According to Fink, Compete to Reduce aims to foster waste reduction by promoting energy reduction on campus as well as recycling, composting and reduced water.Fink said Cornell’s participation in Compete to Reduce was meant to continue recent energy conversation efforts at the University.“Last year was the first year Cornell competed in Recyclemania and this year is the first year we also competed in Campus Conservation Nationals,” Fink said. “We put the two together to make Compete to Reduce.”Fink said one challenge to changing the behavior of students and encouraging them to decrease their energy use is that students will often do the “incorrect thing” if it is easier.In an attempt to remind students about the importance of limiting their energy consumption, more than 40 student volunteers for Compete To Reduce placed posters featuring the big red bear around campus to remind people to responsibly use energy responsibly. “What we’re trying to [do is] get people to [practice] good behavior, so that one day it will be an unconscious good behavior,” Fink said. “It’s important for students to feel empowered and know that they can make a difference through their everyday habits.”Daniel Roth, Cornell’s sustainability coordinator, said that another way to overcome barriers to changing students’ behavior is to give participants real-time feedback on their energy consumption.Fink used an online dashboard — a website maintained by Campus Conservation Nationals to upload and track competitors — to publish the energy rates of all participating residence halls and greek houes, which Roth said would allow participants to track how well they were doing relative to their peers.“If a person knows how they’re doing in comparison to their next-door neighbor or somebody they consider a friend . . . that peer pressure is actually one of the most effective motivating forces,” Roth said. “To create that peer pressure, though, you need [feedback].”Spring Buck, Cornell’s recycling operations administrator, said the University is doing a lot more to engage the community during this year’s competition than it did when it participated in Recyclemania for the first time last year. Buck added that while she believed students were willing to participate, many were “unsure about what’s compostable and what’s not.” However, she also said that some student groups were working to educate students on the matter.“The Compost Club has been doing great stuff,” Buck said. “They’re . ..  working at compost monitoring and teaching people how to compost on site.” One source of confusion, Buck added, is the method Cornell uses for composting.  Cornell, according to Buck, uses an “industrial level composed facility,” which allows material that people would not typically compost, like bones and plant-based plastic, to be consolidated into one compost bin along with more obvious compostables, like napkins or leftovers.“The heat’s a lot higher, there’s a lot more moisture — the stuff breaks down,” Buck said. “If I put it in my compost pile in my backyard, you might not see it break down, and I believe some people get confused about that.”According to Therese O’Connor, Cornell’s dining training coordinator, the University has begun to move towards increased recycling in its on-campus dining halls. Cornell Dining now purchases exclusively 100-percent compostable flatware, O’Connor said.She added that the cost of using compostable utensils has decreased over the last few years. “Our suppliers tell us [that prices are going down] because of the market demand, which has driven production up in many companies that previously were not producing,” O’Connor said. Buck said that the most important message for students to take away from Compete to Reduce was that small, individual efforts and actions eventually make a large change.“It’s really all about individual engagement and it all really truly adds up,” she said. “One of the biggest barriers that I hear from people is, you know, ‘I didn’t bother because it’s such a small amount.’ I get to actually add up the numbers each week and it is amazing what the impact is.”

Original Author: Byron Kittle