STEP begins new Yale Unplugged campaign

Switch off lights? Check. Unplug refrigerator? Check. Turn off computer? Check.

Many of these actions may seem like common sense, but some students are concerned that not everyone will remember to turn off their electronics and appliances before going home for Thanksgiving.

The Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership has begun a new campaign, Yale Unplugged, to stop energy waste by encouraging students to unplug their appliances before leaving campus. STEP hosted an event called “Unplugged” in Timothy Dwight College Thursday, with live music and coffee to promote the initiative. Yale Unplugged is the second of STEP’s two fall initiatives, following the “Light 4 Light” program, which encouraged students to use more environmentally friendly light bulbs.

While several professors and administrators in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies said they applaud STEP’s effort, some undergraduates displayed little enthusiasm for or knowledge of the plans.

Founded two years ago, STEP seeks to educate students on how to increase sustainability and decrease waste production. Several STEP members said they consider sustainability a universal issue, and seek to involve the entire student body in their efforts.

With the recent incorporation of the Office of Sustainability and efforts the University is taking to become more “green,” STEP’s efforts might be paying off, STEP coordinator Stephanie Lake ’07 Lake said. Yale pledged last month to reduce emission rates by 10 percent by 2010.

Since residential colleges comprise up to 20 percent of the University’s energy consumption, STEP decided to go directly to the students to try to reduce Yale’s total energy use this fall. The organization purchased 300 compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which consume one-third to one-fourth less energy and last up to 12 times longer than normal light bulbs.

Next, STEP members went door-to-door on Old Campus, encouraging students to exchange their incandescent light bulbs for the more environmentally friendly ones. The incandescent bulbs were then donated to Habitat for Humanity and other local charities.

Lake said she is optimistic that students will realize the economic and environmental benefits of the CFL light bulbs, though she said some students who were used to 100-watt bulbs were hesitant to make the switch to the 60-watt CFL bulbs.

“The hope was that students would get a taste for the CFLs,” she said. “And the next time they want to go buy a light bulb, that’s what they’ll buy.”

But several students said they were unable to distinguish between regular light bulbs and the CFL type, while others were disappointed by the bulb quality.

“They may be more efficient, but they’re a little dim,” Haley Hogan ’09 said.

Still, STEP Student Director Dominique Gomez ’07 said the benefits of the CFL light bulbs outweigh their drawbacks. While the CFL light bulbs cost more than regular incandescent bulbs, their efficiency makes up for their initial higher price, she said.

“When you do the math, it ends up being significantly cheaper than a normal light bulb,” Lake said. “Not to mention the money you save on the energy bill.”

Riding on the positive reception of their first campaign and the two new grants from the Office of Sustainability, STEP was able to cover all the residential colleges. Ultimately, it gave out 2,000 CFL light bulbs.

STEP members said part of their goal is to give the necessary and simple tools to students to make it as easy as possible to adopt sustainable living habits.

Sustainability Director Julie Newman, who also oversees STEP, said she admires the organization’s perseverance and ability to reach out to a large number of Yale’s population, even those who might not usually focus on environmental issues.

“They have a very difficult task to engage a population of students who have a lot going on,” she said. “STEP is mainstreaming the challenge, reaching out to students in an ongoing process and engaging them in constructive ways.”

In line with their philosophy, STEP members said they worked to make Light 4 Light convenient for students. After giving the CFL light bulb to the student, the STEP coordinators made sure that they made the switch right then and there to guarantee that energy would be saved.

“Students have to do very little,” Gomez said. “It’s basically handed to them. Our goal is to encourage sustainable behavior, but make it as easy as possible to live sustainably.”

STEP members said they thought student reaction was mostly receptive to their campaign.

“A lot of students here are environmentally savvy, and it’s good for them to know that there is another option out there,” Lake said.

Gomez said she was also excited to see that some freshmen already had CFLs in a response from a letter sent out by the Office of Sustainability earlier in the summer.

But some students said they were confused by the STEP coordinators switching their dorm light bulbs to the “squiggly ones.”

“I didn’t let them change my light bulbs,” Tim Kau ’09 said. “I have an inherent mistrust of people barging into my room and offering me things.”

Other students expressed apathy toward STEP’s efforts.

“I’m completely indifferent,” Stephanie Soderborg ’09 said. “They just changed our light bulbs, because we didn’t have enough anyways.”

STEP members and professors at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies said they see the campaign as a success and a necessary step in the University’s road to being cleaner and more sustainable.

“Energy bills and emissions of Yale are staggeringly high, so here’s an opportunity to save both money and environmental impacts,” Arnulf Grubler, a professor in the field of energy and technology, said in an e-mail.

Grubler also said that STEP should not stop at residential colleges, but that it should try to encourage facilities across the whole University to use more environmentally friendly energy sources.

Gustave Speth, dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said that without STEP’s rallying of the student community, the University’s plans to reduce emissions might not be feasible.

“Yale’s new climate policy will need a huge effort to raise energy and environmental awareness on campus,” Speth said in an e-mail. “I really applaud what STEP is doing.”

The simple things like unplugging appliances and turning off lights will really add up and make a difference in the long run, Gomez said.

“You’re not using your alarm clock over break,” she said. “But it is still using energy.”

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