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Knott wins energy competition

Sara Felsenstein | Wednesday, December 1, 2010

After 30 days of commitment to dimmed lights, taking the stairs and unplugging cell phone chargers and game systems, Knott Hall won Notre Dame’s third annual Dorm Energy Competition Tuesday.

The energy competition, hosted by the Office of Sustainability, began Nov. 1. This year focused on reducing “vampire energy,” the power that is sucked by most electronic devices even when they are turned off.

Knott received the $500 grand prize for their 26 percent energy reduction. Zahm and Lewis tied for second place with 21 percent energy reduction each.

“All the dorms together saved 13 percent, equivalent to $9,250 or 259,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions,” Rachel Novick, education and outreach programs manager at the Office of Sustainability, said. “This is more than we have saved in any previous Dorm Energy Competition, which shows that we are getting broader participation across the campus than ever before.”

Knott Hall president Jared Stewart said the Energy Competition was an opportunity to bring the residents of Knott together for a common goal. Stewart said Knott Hall government, especially Energy Commissioner freshman Jack McLaren, worked to inform residents about different ways to save energy.

“We put up a lot of signs on all the floors about taking the stairs, not using the elevators and we also put signs up throughout the stairs thanking people for taking the stairs and encouraging them to do so,” he said.

Stewart said Knott also saved energy by unplugging all electronics other than the refrigerator over Thanksgiving, using cold water in the washing machines, and leaving lights off whenever possible.

“[We encouraged] people to turn off their lights when they leave the room. I think that some of the key areas where we kept the lights off were the bathrooms, definitely,” he said. “The hallways we had dimmer. On the first floor, we kept the lights off completely unless they were needed.”

He said he was impressed by the commitment and dedication his fellow Knott residents had to the competition.

“Throughout this whole month I’ve only seen people using the elevator a few times, and pretty much everyone was on board with it,” he said. “Sometimes people would even be in the room with the lights off.”

Despite the significant strides students have taken to conserve energy over the last month, Novick said it is important to continue the same energy-saving practices into the future.

“Students can cut down energy consumption by sharing a refrigerator with a whole suite, and by keeping appliances unplugged when they’re not in use, like chargers, stereos, TVs and game systems,” she said. “Clothes dryers also take a lot of energy so hang-drying clothes is a great way to save energy.”

Novick said the plastic water bottles found everywhere on campus are wasteful, and that students should switch to reusable bottles.

“People have gotten so used to carrying around plastic water bottles,” she said. “The truth is that bottled water is not any healthier than tap water, typically. Mostly, it’s just filtered tap water and it’s tremendous amounts of plastic.”

With Christmas lights and decorations covering campus during the holiday season, Novick said The Office of Sustainability has worked to inform students, faculty and staff about how to decorate using less energy.

“We started last year working with offices on reducing the energy of Christmas lights,” she said. “We visited offices all across the campus and offered them free timers so that their tree lights would turn off automatically at night.”

This year, she said the Office of Sustainability will focus on reducing energy use in dorms. She especially advised using LED Christmas lights.

“If a dorm has a big communal display, that’s a great opportunity to use a timer … you have a big opportunity to save energy,” she said. “We’d like to visit the dorms during December and offer them timers.”

She also said opportunities exist for “green” Christmas decorating — it just might take a bit of creativity.

“One thing that I saw in Cavanaugh last year is that in order to encourage people to celebrate without energy, they had a green decorating contest, [and] encouraged people to decorate without electricity and to use recycled materials A lot of the dorms were really beautiful. There are opportunities to have alternative decorations,” she said.

Novick said for widespread energy conservation to occur, a cultural change is needed. College campuses like Notre Dame, she said, could be a good place to start this type of change.

“I think that campus communities are such a great living laboratory for creating cultural change,” she said. “When people do stuff together on a campus, they can see the results. It gets [them] a lot more excited.”

Stewart said he sensed excitement about change even within the smaller Knott environment.

“I think a huge thing in this whole energy competition was bringing everyone together,” he said. “I also think the [unity] this brought about will carry through. [We know] if we all come together as a dorm we can accomplish some pretty significant things.”

Novick said sustainable living does not mean living with less, it simply means being more aware on a day-to-day basis.

“Sustainability is not about living without things that make [you] happy, it’s about being more conscious about the choices [you] can make,” she said.