March 31, 2013

Cornell Ecology House Wins Conservation Challenge

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All 16 Cornell residence halls participated in the Campus Conservation Nationals — a competition focused on reducing  the consumption of energy and water — earlier this month. The Ecology House, which reduced its energy costs by 12.7 percent in three weeks, won the competition.

The dorm was followed by Low Rises 6 and 7 with a 10.5 percent reduction in energy costs and Clara Dickson Hall with a 8.6 percent reduction, according to the Building Dashboard website, a new system at Cornell that tracks every building’s energy usage.

The residence halls’ efforts contributed to a reduction of $5,596 in energy costs over a three-week period of the conservation challenge.

In total, Cornell students saved 34,977 kilowatt-hours and diverted 31,724 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to Building Dashboard.

Throughout the competition, residence hall coordinators and students took efforts to plan, publicize and participate in energy-saving sustainable activities and events.

Alexa Bakker ’15, chair of the recycling committee at the Ecology House, said the dormitory hosted a variety of challenges for its residents, including not taking a shower for a day, taking a cold shower or taking a shorter shower. Efforts were also made to turn down heaters, use cold water for laundry and turn lights off, according to Bakker.

“We came up with little fun challenges that were interactive and made people more conscious of what they were doing,” said Brian Magnier ’15, an advisor to the Ecology House’s recycling committee.

The Ecology House also coordinated social events such as music performances and outdoor games to help reduce the building’s energy use, according to Magnier.

“We tried to get everyone more centralized and out of their rooms to avoid having all of the lights on,” Magnier said.

The competition was monitored through Building Dashboard, according to Matthew Laks ’15, a resident advisor in Clara Dickson Hall who helped publicize the competition.

According to Laks, many of the challenges buildings implemented came from the Building Dashboard site.

“I advertised the competition to Dickson residents through emails with links to the Building Dashboard website where there were different pledges people could take, like turning off the lights when going to class or turning off the sink when brushing their teeth,” Laks said.

Bakkar said students had a positive reaction to the competition.

“People got really pumped about the competition,” Bakkar said. “Some people said some of the changes were crazy or weren’t sustainable, but in the end, the efforts reminded people how much they appreciate certain things and helped create sustainable changes.”

Bakker added that many of the actions taken during the competition have become lasting changes in the Ecology House.

“We permanently turned down heaters in our building’s entryway and turned lights off in the lobby,” Bakker said. “Some people have realized that they don’t need lights on when doing work, or they don’t need the heat on as high or [to use] the microwave as often.”

The dorm has also invested in drying racks to reduce the use of the drying machines, added Magnier.

Bakker said the competition helped students understand their role in energy reduction.

“I think it helps people realize how much small actions can really impact energy use. Seeing continued energy drop made people realize that what we’re doing is making a huge difference,” Bakker said.

Laks echoed Bakker’s sentiments, saying small actions can have a large impact.

“It’s amazing how small pledges can make a tremendous difference. Clara Dickson is the largest dorm in the Ivy League, and it can really save a lot of energy,” Laks said.

Magnier said many of the changes they made were simple to implement.

“You don’t have to change a lot during your daily routine to get results you can see,” Magnier said.

The Campus Conservation Nationals had other benefits as well, according to Bakker.

“[The competition] also promotes community through working together,” Bakker said. “I made a bulletin board and kept track of our progress, but I couldn’t have made the energy drop alone. Sacrifices were made by everyone.”

Original Author: Lauren Bergelson