College challenges students to conserve during October, eighth annual challenge

The eighth annual energy challenge is amping up to power down as student groups host events to inspire the Allegheny community to reduce electricity consumption.

“We do fun events to ask people to change their behaviors, we save on electricity and then we use that money to do things on campus that students want to see,” said Kelly Boulton, ’02, the coordinator of the energy challenge and Allegheny College’s sustainability coordinator.

The energy challenge began on Oct. 6 and will end on Nov. 3. Allegheny students, staff and faculty are challenged to reduce electricity consumption on campus by 10 percent, according to Boulton. The money the college saves by reducing electricity usage will fund a campus sustainability effort of the student body’s choice.

The energy challenge is meant to be fun, rather than a hassle, according to Boulton.

“You can get out of your dorm room, turn off your lights, go do something that is really fun, but is not energy intensive at all,” Boulton said.

The fun comes through events hosted by student organizations. The Outing Club’s night hike, Meditation Club’s yoga in the dark and the Grounds for Change unplugged open mic night are a few of the events that have become traditions in the past seven years of the energy challenge.

“I’m really proud of the partnerships we’ve created and the willingness that students have of ‘Yeah, we want to do that energy challenge event again this year.’ That, to me, has been really, really great,” Boulton said.

Autumm Blaisdell, ’21, assistant to the sustainability coordinator, said new events offered this year include making no-sew, glow in the dark bags and embarking on a scavenger hunt of “green spots,” locations that highlight sustainable practices around campus.

“I don’t want to give away the green spots, but I was thinking about either six to eight spots around campus that students interact with daily,” Blaisdell said.

As student organizations host events, Boulton crunches numbers to determine the challenge’s impact. Boulton collects electricity use data the month prior to the challenge to create a baseline for energy consumption on campus. The baseline this year is 47,521 kilowatt hours, the daily average electricity consumption of the campus.

Each week of the energy challenge Boulton reads the electric meters and determines the total percent of energy reduction, kilowatt hours of energy saved, the amount of money saved and the percent electricity reduction in each dorm. Every Friday she shares the results with the rest of campus via Facebook and posters in dorms.

The college saved $3,999 by reducing energy consumption by 13 percent of the first week of the 2017 energy challenge, according to the Allegheny College Gator Green Facebook page.

While the energy challenge is only four weeks long, the results have lasting impacts.

“We have seen over the years a consistent decrease in the amount of energy that we have to purchase every year,” Boulton said, explaining the decrease in energy consumption is due both to changes in individuals’ energy use and improved operational efficiency on campus.

“Both of those things are definitely having an impact and all of this contributes to our overall climate neutrality goal of 2020,” Boulton said.

Funding more sustainability efforts is another lasting impact of the energy challenge. Allegheny Student Government and Boulton, with input from Students for Environmental Action, determined five possible projects this energy challenge could fund. These ideas include adding solar panels, water refill stations in dorms, outdoor recycling bins, more motion sensing lighting and buying carbon credits, according to Akeem Adesiji, ’20, ASG’s director of sustainability.

“The students are the ones putting in the work to save the money so we’re trying to give students a say in what that money goes toward,” Adesiji said.

Voting will occur during the energy challenge via a survey found on MyAllegheny and class year Facebook pages. ASG will table in the Henderson Campus Center and provide computers for students to vote on.

Students choosing the sustainability projects, strong data management and a fun atmosphere around the event are what make Allegheny’s energy challenge a success, according to Boulton.

“I’ve gone to conferences and talked about our energy challenge and other campuses are always like ‘What?’ So I think we have a model of an energy challenge that works on our campus in ways that it doesn’t work on other campuses,” Boulton said. “I think we do something unique here.”

The college saved $11,000 during the energy challenge last year, according to Boulton. More filtered water stations, which will be installed beginning this month, were purchased with the savings from the energy challenge last year. A little money was left over from the 2016 challenge, which will be added to the savings from the 2017 challenge.

“It’s fun to see how much everybody’s small efforts add up in the end,” Boulton said.