Dorms wage war on energy, water usage

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Elizabeth Pulanco / Winonan

As a way to promote sustainable living, Winona State University’s chemistry department is partnering with Housing and Residence Life for the Energy Wars.

Throughout the month of February, students living in campus housing will compete against each other to reduce their energy and water usage.

Jeanne Franz, a professor within the chemistry department, is one of the organizers for the event. According to Franz, Winona State has been participating in the Energy Wars for a decade.

“A decade ago there was a group up at Macalester College that had energy contests between colleges and universities in the upper Midwest,” Franz said.

Eventually, Winona State decided to localize the event and compete within the residence halls on campus.

As a way to get the students interested and involved with Energy Wars, Franz and students in her environmental chemistry class created educational material for the residence halls and a group of students spoke to during Hall Council meetings.

Andrew Paulson, one of Franz’s students, demonstrated how to switch from incandescent lightbulbs to compact fluorescent lightbulbs or LED lights, which are more energy efficient.

“The cool thing I notice in the dorms, is that

after the presentation, you could tell that some people were awed by the amount of electricity that could be saved by switching out lightbulbs,”

Paulson said. “I asked the students for ideas on how they could save water and energy and they all seemed to be able to contribute in some way.”

Other than switching to energy saving lightbulbs, Paulson and Franz suggested unplugging devices and appliances after use can save energy as well. According to Franz, energy that is being consumed when the appliances are not in use is called “Phantom Energy.”

“Unplug your appliances if you are not using them,” Franz said. “My toaster at home uses energy when it is not even toasting anything. My students told me they saved $200 a month just by unplugging their toaster.”

Franz also communicates with Facilities and receives weekly updates on the energy reduction of each residence hall.

“We look at how much of their energy use is reduced relative to the previous month, so it is more fair for the older residence halls and they have the opportunity to win,” Franz said.

According to information from Facilities, Prentiss-Lucas is in the lead for the first week of Energy Wars. During the first week, they used only 79 percent of the electricity they use in a typical week and only 81 percent of the water.

Sarah Olcott, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life, has been working with Franz on updating the leader boards. Olcott said she hopes the event will provide students with the education they need to change their behavior.

“I am hoping it gives people the opportunity to learn about how much energy they are using or abusing with very simple behavior change,” Olcott said. “There are a lot of little things that won’t disrupt their life, but it takes someone who knows about the topic to point it out.”

In order to show their commitment to energy, students will pledge to participate in energy saving activities.

The points for the competition are awarded by taking the percentage of students in the hall who have taken the pledge plus the percentage of how much energy change they used compared to their baseline in January, Olcott added.

Paulson said that at the end of the competition, the winning residence hall will be able to plan a party of their choosing.

With conservation, Olcott said reaching out to individuals personally has been able inspire students to make long lasting behavioral changes.

“I think the best thing they can do is to encourage their friends to make better choices around energy, recycling and waste reduction,” Olcott said. “That is really how you reach people, by talking to them one on one and explaining that these life changes can make a big difference.”

By Elizabeth Pulanco

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