Sarah Ratchford, CUP Atlantic Bureau Chief
FREDERICTON (CUP) — Last year, three UPEI residences challenged each other to conserve energy, and they saved 8800 kWh. This year, they’ve challenged schools from across the Maritimes to do the same.
Over 30 residences, and over 2000 students, are now competing to be the greenest house on the East Coast. The contest, which started on Jan. 10, is pitting the residence halls against each other to see who can reduce the most energy from their normal consumption, through everyday methods like turning off lights and computers off they’re not being used.
The competition originated last year between residences at the University of Prince Edward Island, but this year they challenged six other schools to join them: St. Francis Xavier University, Dalhousie University, Holland College, Mount Allison University, and both the Fredericton and Saint John campuses of the University of New Brunswick.
David Taylor, manager of sustainability and energy management at UPEI, was very pleased that last year’s challenge saw the school’s three residences cut energy consumption by 8800 kWh. “We felt that was pretty positive,” he says.
It was that positive result that drove UPEI to get other campuses on board.
Taylor says that where the competition stretches longer than 30 days – enough time to form a new habit or break an old one – it has the potential to encourage new habits in students across the region, which could have long-term positive benefits for the contestants.
“It’s turning off your TV, putting your computer on sleep mode or hibernate. Those types of small, habit forming things.”
Perry Eldridge, technical services manager at Mount Allison, echoes Taylor’s sentiments, saying that he hopes students will carry energy-efficient habits away from university residences and into their future homes.
“Rather than this just being the six weeks for the challenge, we’re trying to promote a way of life,” he says.
Dave MacNeil, budget analyst for facilities management at St.FX, says whether or not people make long-term changes depends on the person.
“A lot of it is awareness,” he says. “It’s about how much energy we all use on a day to day basis. If we make small adjustments in our routines, that makes a big difference from week to week.”
Another goal of the contest is to foster discussion among the participating schools.
Eldridge says Mount Allison has some initiatives that other schools could use and benefit from, including residence “eco-reps” who pay attention to energy use in their residences to “raise energy awareness.”
Discussion may not just grow within individual schools now that they’ve begun interacting over energy.
“We’d like to get some really good discussions going among universities and the different campuses,” says Gladys Lacey-House, energy co-ordinator at UNB Fredericton. “We’d like to discuss what’s being used for heat, lighting.”
The contest, she continues, will provide “information for us to help move forward as to the best way to go. We need to find out why some buildings perform so well, and others do not.”
She also says it’s important to look at the culture within particular residences to determine what kinds of attitudes make the best environmentalists.
“Do the students meet regularly? Maybe they’re very conscious, and keep an active venue of meeting and discussing.”
A few weeks into the challenge, UNB Fredericton is winning the competition, with a reduction in energy of 24.8 per cent.
Lacey-House points out that the contest’s energy-reduction leader — Lady Beaverbrook Residence at UNB Fredericton — is the campus’ oldest house. It was built in 1930.
“It’s great, people are so enthusiastic,” says Verna McLean, a residence assistant at Lady Beaverbrook. While she says some residents are more enthused than others, she expects more to get more involved as the competition goes on.
Aitken House, also at UNB Fredericton, is in second place, while Holland College’s Glendenning Hall is third.
Residences that are falling behind need not fret, however, as the competition will continue until Feb. 20.
The winning residence will receive a plaque as well as a cash prize to go toward energy reduction initiatives. The eco-friendly habits the students are forming, though, go beyond just tangible prizes.
“There are benefits for all, regardless of who wins,” says Lacey-House.