More Students are Plugging in Despite School’s Energy Saving Efforts

By Alex Acaro

An energy reduction competition at SUNY New Paltz has produced mixed results, according to data from the Office of Campus Sustainability.

During three-week energy conservation between residence halls, students are in some cases not making an effort at all or are using more energy than in the beginning of the competition.  

The New Paltz Unplugged program was launched in 2014 as a way to encourage students to conserve energy in their residence halls. According to Office of Sustainability Coordinator Lisa Mitten, two years ago the program offered glo-sticks to the Residence Hall Student Association and asked Resident Assistants for glow-in-the-dark dorm programs encouraging students to turn off their lights to save energy. This past year, they have also distributed door tags reminding residents of 10 ways to  conserve energy.

“The feedback I received from these door hangers was that they were effective in spreading the message about energy conservation to all student residents,” Mitten said. “We have also improved marketing about the program each year.”

However, the data collected from the program shows that it’s struggling to be an effective tool. The two years of data collected shows that even if a hall was successful at decreasing energy usage, it didn’t make a significant impact overall.

“A number of halls actually increased their energy usage, so there’s definitely opportunity to improve,” Mitten said. “On average, all residence halls last fall reduced their electricity use by one percent compared to the baseline period, so at least we’re moving in the right direction.  Encouraging over 3,000 students to change their day to day habits and behavior is not easy!”

In 2015, the data shows six out of 14 residence halls increased energy usage but by thin margins. The rest of the residence halls decreased energy usage, but still by thin margins not exceeding three  percent.

The data for the 2016 competition cycle shows that the competition lost its importance. Ten out of 14 residence halls increased their energy usage, and three out of those 10 increased usage by over 10 percent. The hall that was successful at significantly decreasing energy usage was Scudder Hall, which decreased energy usage by 7 percent or 47 kilowatt hours. On the other hand, Deyo Hall increased their energy usage by 11.1 percent or 98 kilowatt hours and Dubois Hall increased energy usage by 10.6 percent or 90 kilowatt hours.

According to Mitten, if the program was as successful as University at Albany’s program at reducing energy usage, the program could help the school save up to $24,000, totaling 300,000 kilowatt hours. University at Albany was able to save about one million in kilowatt hours, which equates to around $90,000  in energy savings.

The main difference between New Paltz Unplugged and University at Albany’s program is that  their program lasts 10 weeks while New Paltz Unplugged only lasts three. Also, University at Albany’s program isn’t just for residence halls, it’s for the whole campus.

This extra seven weeks of the program allows for students and faculty to adjust to the competition. Also, it allows for more in depth data to be recorded, which is then presented to students on a weekly basis. The data shows more details of energy usage, its total impact on campus, and where improvements can be done.

Beth Traver, who is an Energy Coordinator at the Office of Campus Sustainability, said she agreed that the length of the program was  the cause of its ineffectiveness .

“You can’t change a student’s behavior over a few days,” she said. “It takes at least a month before they’re completely on board.”

Traver also believes that the program failed to convince students because it didn’t provide students with an incentive to participate.

Mitten’s initial plan to combat the issues with the New Paltz Unplugged competition was to remodel it after University of Albany’s for Fall 2017. However, she quickly realized her staff is not large enough to take on the project and will now focus on broader sustainability planning for the campus.

Starting Fall 2017, campus-wide sustainability assessments will take place using the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System Model. Mitten also said that she and her team will being revamping the Campus Sustainability Plan from 2012.

“My focus has shifted from the duration and scope of New Paltz Unplugged to wider sustainability planning,” she said. “If my office had as much staff as University of Albany, we would model our program off of University of Albany’s.”

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