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Green Matters: Dorms battle it out in The Energy Wars

It’s time to start paying more attention to how your daily choices impact the planet because the Dorm Energy Wars have begun! The Energy Wars are a competition to see which students can reduce their dorm’s energy use by the largest amount per capita. The competition runs from Friday, February 19th to Friday, February 26th.

So, why is this happening? Current US rates of energy consumption are unsustainable for the planet and, since internationalism is part of our mission statement, the Macalester community cares about acting for the good of the global community. And any reduction in energy use helps push towards Macalester’s 2025 Carbon Neutrality goal. In the official Sustainability Plan, Macalester aims to achieve 2025 Carbon Neutrality by reducing energy use by 52% of 2007-2008 levels of consumption and accounting for the remaining 48% by using off-site renewable energy or buying carbon offsets (which are credits to support projects that keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphereto compensate for the amount we’re putting in). The Dorm Energy Wars are part of the 52% energy use reduction goal. Though Macalester is small, and the numerical energy use reduction may be negligible, every bit helps.

Energy Wars are popular on college campuses across the US, with students at schools like Carleton, St. Olaf and Oberlin becoming invested in how their dorms shape up to others on campus. Macalester is just now joining the charge because the meters necessary to monitor energy consumption by dorm were installed only last semester. The Sustainability Office hopes to eventually install energy meters in all buildings on campus.

Students will be able to track their dorm’s progress on the screens on the main floor of the Campus Center. Members of the Sustainability Office say that a website is in the works for students to be able to view dorm energy consumption online at any time.

From an infrastructure standpoint, dorms are relatively more efficient than other forms of housing. Macalester’s Sustainability Manager, Suzanne Savanick Hansen, reports that in the most recent Macalester study of per capita energy use, “the least efficient dorm was about on-par with EcoHouse, our most efficient house.” This is because dorms house more people per square foot than houses, so there is less lighting and heating necessary per person. However, living in relatively efficient housing is not the same as living in an efficient way. In addition to bringing down total energy use, the competition is about provoking behavioral change that students can then apply to the rest of their lives.

David Munkvold ’17, one of the Macalester students involved with the Sustainability Office and working on the project explains, “We want students to feel responsible for the energy that they consume … Most people at Macalester are pretty privileged and usually don’t have to think about their energy footprints.”

Munkvold says that depending on the success of this Energy War, there may be more to come. Though this competition will only last a week, future iterations could take place over the course of a month, or even a semester . Though members of the Macalester community generally feel concerned about global issues, sustainability can fall by the wayside without conscious effort on campus. The success of this competition rests on the student body’s connection to our dorms, our school and each other. “The dorms that succeed will be those with a strong sense of community,” explains Professor Christie Manning, who teaches Psychology of Sustainable Behavior, along with other environmental studies courses.

Want to show that you care about a sustainable future? Want to prove that your dorm has the best community? Remember that since the competition is based on the greatest behavioral change, the winner will be determined by percent reduction, not on total energy consumption (since some dorms are more efficient than others, simply based on how they are built). Here are three suggestions to get you started.

First, unplug that mini-fridge. The mini-fridge is by far the largest energy consumer in a college dorm room. They use more energy per cubic foot than a normal refrigerator, and most students don’t really need them. If there is something you absolutely must have refrigerated, try sharing with a neighbor.

Second, kill the vampires under your desk! Fully-charged electronics and chargers with nothing attached to them still suck “vampire” power and waste energy. Unplug or switch off your power strips when they aren’t in use. Third, talk with your neighbors. This is a dorm challenge, not an individual one. Maybe you can all agree to go to the lounge if you’re still doing homework after midnight, so only one lounge light is on, instead of a bunch of individual lights in dorm rooms. Work with your community.

Though these are all relatively small energy expenditures compared to other life choices we make, such as air travel (air travel for study abroad accounts for 13.08% of Macalester’s greenhouse gas emissions), these small energy expenditures are things that we can change easily. And in doing so, we can be mindful of what it means to act towards a sustainable future. As a member of the Macalester community, you have an obligation to act in the best interest of the global community, and that means acting sustainably. Start by being a good member of your dorm community. Organize with your neighbors, go forth and win the Dorm Energy Wars!

February 19, 2016

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