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Get Ready for Ecolympics, Part 2

Feb. 21, 2012


Oberlin's Energy Squirrel, drawn by artist Amy MacDonald, debuted during the first Campus Conservation Nationals. The squirrel's animated antics illustrated the Campus Resource Monitoring System's data.

Environmentalism will be the theme this spring at Oberlin as the campus prepares for one of the main events in this year’s Ecolympics: the second annual Campus Conservation Nationals (CCN). The competition challenges college students across the country to reduce their water and electricity use to promote conservation.

The CCN is made possible by a resource monitoring system developed by the Oberlin alumni-founded software company, Lucid Design Group. Oberlin has had the luxury of using Lucid’s technology to power its Campus Resource Monitoring System since 2005. At oberlin.edu/DormEnergy, students who live in dormitories or village housing can monitor their water and electricity use in real time.

Using the same technology, the 2012 Campus Conservation Nationals will empower students from 150 colleges and universities across the United States to conserve resources. But CCN 2012 will depart from the competitive spirit of the first CCN, held in fall 2010, and instead emphasize cooperation to meet collective energy-reduction goals. The challenge to participants this year will be to collectively reduce electricity use by 1 gigawatt hour during the competition period.

Cooperation vs. Competition

“This competition is not just about personal action; this year’s CCN will be successful if it motivates students to organize themselves as environmental activists,” says John Petersen, professor and chair of environmental studies.

Competition, however, has not been ruled out completely. Schools have the option to engage in smaller competitions against rival or peer institutions. On an intracampus level, schools can choose to follow the Oberlin model and host competitions among dormitories.

In last year’s CCN, which had 40 participants, Oberlin placed third in water-use reduction and a surprisingly low 33rd in electricity reduction. Petersen attributes this to a number of variables, which he argues make it practically impossible to have a completely fair competition.

Climate and weather, for instance, have a considerable impact on electricity use in buildings. A dorm in a region that experiences cold winters may rely on an electrical resistor for heating. As a result, that dorm is likely to consume far more electricity than a dorm on say, the sunny University of Miami campus. To help control for this variable, participating schools can choose to host their competition during any three-week period between February 6 and April 23.

Another reason for the unexpected results last year can be explained by a phenomenon observed in research done by Petersen, Associate Professor of Psychology Cindy Frantz, and student research assistants.

“Dorms that tend to do best are those that have students who are less connected with nature or environmentally conscious,” says Petersen.

Since more environmentally conscious students tend to already engage in resource reducing behaviors, they have lower resource-use baselines. It may be difficult for them to further lower their consumption, so reductions tend to be slim. This may help explain why Oberlin’s standings in the first CCN weren’t as impressive as the community hoped they would be.

Nonetheless, the overall outcome was positive. Collectively, the 40 participating schools reduced their electricity use by 508,000 kilowatt-hours, saving $50,200 and preventing 816,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Talk of the Town

Here at Oberlin, the competition became the talk of the town. “During the competition, energy and water conservation became a buzz topic around campus in ways that I've never seen before,” says Pete Sabo ‘11. Given the slew of events planned for this year’s Oberlin Ecolympics, we expect CCN 2012 to make an even bigger impact on campus.

Year after year, Oberlin has proven itself as a leader in sustainability. Just this past week, Oberlin achieved a gold rating in the Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System. A successful finish in the CCN 2012 will further strengthen Oberlin’s green reputation and help sustain the tradition of conservation on campus.

Oberlin will hold this year’s Ecolympics, including CCN 2012, in warm spring weather, from April 3 to April 23.

Danny Rosenberg Daneri is the communications intern for the Office of Environmental Sustainability.

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