Over the next three months, Yalies will have an unusual opportunity to compete for residential college superiority — in electricity reduction.
The Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership kicked off its first-ever intramural electricity reduction competition, the aptly titled Project Lux, last week. Until winter break, colleges will be ranked on their percentage electricity reduction, and the winning college will either have a solar panel erected on it or will have one dedicated in its name elsewhere.
“The solar panel will be a very visible statement that Yale cares about sustainability,” Morse College STEP Coordinator Jessica Bolhack ’11 said.
STEP’s Spring 2008 Push to 15 competition rewarded whichever college reduced the most energy overall from the average of previous years. But in an effort to be more equitable, this year’s competition focuses solely on the percentage by which colleges are able to reduce their electricity output, mainly through lights and appliances. Total energy consumption includes heating and air conditioning, which students cannot adjust themselves.
“We decided to focus on electricity, which students can control in their colleges,” Project LUX Coordinator Victoria Charette ’11 said.
The move to an electricity-focused competition came after the number of variables involved in relative total energy output in last spring’s competition undermined the fairness of the competition, she said.
“When we were using all energy waste as a measure, it was really inaccurate — we are hoping that by just measuring energy reduction, having minimized the variables, the rankings will be more accurate,” Charette said.
For this year’s competition, STEP is using a three-year average of each college’s electricity output as a baseline measure. In order to include freshmen, STEP has also added the three-year average output of each college’s Old Campus dorm.
Colleges whose students have lived in Swing Space for one of the past three years will have the energy use of the year in Swing Space incorporated into the three-year average, Charette said.
Overall, she said, STEP has tried to make this year’s competition accessible to students.
“Everyone can change their computer settings to power-save mode, they can unplug their appliances, they can turn off their lights when they leave their room,” she said. “There are plenty of things they can integrate into their everyday routine than can reduce their energy use.”
In addition to posting the college rankings on Yale Station and in residential college dining halls, STEP will host events for the community at the end of the first week of each month of the competition.
The first event, titled “Let’s Blackout,” will take place this Thursday at 9 p.m. on Old Campus and will feature a showing of “The Princess Bride,” hot chocolate, hot cider and s’mores to lure people to turn off their lights and go outside.
The theme of greater accessibility has been a key part of Project LUX and reflects a greater initiative on the part of STEP to be seen as not militantly environmentalist, Bolhack said.
“We are really making an effort to reach out to the freshmen and to help them know that being sustainable and living a green life is really part of being a student at Yale,” she said.
Yet despite the group’s efforts, most students interviewed did not know what Project Lux was, never mind that it had begun.
Some students even felt strongly that STEP and STEP coordinators are often overly aggressive in their promotional efforts.
“My problem with STEP is that instead of educating people about conserving energy they sort of militantly shove it down peoples’ throats,” Adam Goodrum ’10 said.
Goodrum, however, did add that he has become more aware of turning off his lights when he leaves his room since coming to Yale.
“I think with a competition I might be a little bit more conscious about turning off lights when I leave, but not much,” he said.
Other students interviewed responded positively, although they said they wished they had seen more promotional materials.
“I think it’s a good idea, but it would probably be more effective if it were advertised better,” Meredith Morrison ’11 said.