University residence halls compete in Eco-Olympics

By Austin Keating

Seated around a table in a cubicle study room in the Undergraduate Library, a group of students had to solve a problem. It wasn’t a complicated integral or anything class related; the problem had to do with energy conservation — how were they going to reduce energy consumption at the University’s residence halls?

The answer has something to do with changing student behavior and attitudes toward energy usage through competition, said Paul Foote, senior in ACES. 

Foote is the coordinator of Eco-Olympics, a three-week competition among six residence halls that’s coming to a close April 20. He leads a team of outreach volunteers who try to spread word of the competition through anything from ultimate Frisbee games to giving quick speeches at floor events.

“We have teams in each hall to reach out to all of the residents to convince them that this is a wonderful thing to do so that they have an impact in what they use each day,” Foote said.

Whichever hall reduces their average energy usage the most will be awarded a trophy and a catered party.

“The campus has done a lot of energy conservation behind the scenes,” said Morgan Johnston, associate director of sustainability at Facilities and Services. “To get to the next level of conservation, we need to get people on campus to think about energy use with their daily behavior.”

She cited a 28 percent energy reduction since 2008, but with about 10,000 students living in University housing, she said a change in student behavior can have an impact the percentage even more.

So when an energy usage tracking system was installed in all of the University’s residence halls last year, the opportunity to do this arose. Using this measuring system, which makes it easier to track energy usage data on a day-to-day basis, the University was able to join a national competition called Campus Conservation Nationals for the first time.

“We can look at how much energy is being used minute by minute,” Johnston said. “Now we have the ability to use this information to allow for competitions between residence halls, and competitions are a great way to get people inspired to make change.”

Schools could implement a three-week competition within the window of Jan. 13 and April 30, so while the University isn’t quite finished yet with its campus competition, Iowa State is, with their highest energy conservation percentage at a residence hall being 5 percent.

Ahead of them, as of April 14, is the University’s No. 1, Barton Hall, with almost a 10 percent energy conservation rate. Jessica Mondello, sophomore in ACES, is in charge of energy conservation outreach at the hall.

“I’m not really sure what we’ve been doing right, but I’m happy that we’re doing something right,” she said. “I’m trying to get a lot of people to unplug their mini fridges.”

The other halls involved in the competition in order of rank are Lundgren Hall, Allen Hall, Lincoln Avenue Residence Hall, Scott Hall and Snyder Hall — all of which have made negative savings so far.

But now that temperatures are rising, energy conservation seems tougher, especially for Scott and Snyder, which are both trailing far behind LAR, Allen and Lundgren. 

Saloni Sheth, freshman in FAA and a member of the Snyder Hall team, blamed it on the manual air conditioning units in both halls. 

“I noticed that a lot of people in my dorm have been turning their air on,” said Scott Hall team member Kari Ross, freshman in LAS. “It’s very hard to live in when it gets hot, but I leave my window open all of the time, and I keep my door open to keep cool.”

Air conditioning dominated the conversation at the Eco-Olympic team meeting last week, and Foote encouraged the teams to push residents to turn the manual units on fan-mode.

“It certainly has had a devastating impact,” he said, referring to the rankings. “But it looks like mother nature will be on our side over the next week with cooler temperatures, so hopefully that changes things.”

Austin can be reached at [email protected] and @austinkeating3.