Breckinridge prevails in second Battle of the Bulbs

By Kate Shepherd

Breckinridge residents killed the lights for the month of February—and consequently won the Green Campus Initiative’s (GCI) second annual Battle of the Bulbs competition.

GCI, a student environmental awareness group, created the month-long competition to encourage students in housing to reduce their energy consumption.

Breckinridge reduced its energy consumption by 24 percent during the month of February. Maclean came in second place with a 13.4 percent reduction. Housing residents dorm-wide reduced consumption by an average of 2.8 percent—equivalent to 10.9 tons of carbon or 22.9 barrels of oil.

Breckinridge resident Phoebe Heyman said house members made a concerted effort to win the competition by instituting habits such as turning off hall lights and unplugging power strips during the day. She said that her fellow housemates intend to continue their environmentally friendly practices, even now that the competition is over.

“Everyone knows what they should be doing to save energy but it doesn’t mean they are doing it,” said Breckinridge president, second-year Ross Karp. “Breckinridge does nothing half-heartedly.”

GCI co-chair Liz Selbst said that the Battle of the Bulbs competition successfully accomplished its goal of raising environmental awareness among students. She added that the competition especially targeted students who were not previously aware of their personal energy consumption.

Nevertheless, fourth-year Lee Walsh, the data committee chair for Battle of the Bulbs, speculated that student interest in this year’s competition may have dwindled since last year. Although Breckinridge’s percentage decrease this year trumps that of last year’s winner Burton-Judson, overall energy use in the dorms this year was higher than it was last year, he said.

“It’s a little different because the baselines for measurement were different. Percentage decreases went down, but there was more energy use overall,” Walsh said. “During last year’s battle, we used less energy.”

This year, energy consumption during February was measured against an average of consumption from February 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2003. During last year’s battle, the level of consumption was only compared with corollary data from February 2006.

Data from 2004 was omitted because it was a leap year. While this year is also a leap year, data was only collected for 28 days.

Despite this year’s higher energy consumption, Selbst said that those students who did participate in the competition played active roles to reduce dorm energy use.

“The volume of e-mails we received asking questions about how we were getting our data and asking about further steps people could take to reduce consumption makes me think people were just as excited about this year’s Battle,” Selbst said in an e-mail interview. “Certainly the winning house, Breck, got very into the competition—there were a lot of Breckies lined up at the closing ceremony to see the Green Cup trophy awarded.”

Residents of Snell-Hitchcock expressed disappointment over their last place finish in the competition this year. The dorm showed an increased energy consumption of 13.9 percent due to construction work on the nearby Searle Chemistry Laboratory, which drew power from a corridor under Snell-Hitchcock. In order for Snell-Hitchcock to compete fairly in the battle, the GCI would have had to put in a separate meter to track energy use, Selbst said. It is also possible that Burton-Judson’s energy use, which increased 5.8 percent over last year’s consumption, was affected by the nearby construction of the new dorm south of the Midway, Walsh said. Selbst said she hopes next year’s competition will include Stony Island, which did not participate this year because the dorm tracks energy usage differently than other dorms.

Despite their overall energy increase, first-year Snell-Hitchcock resident Frank Li said that he and his house-mates put a lot of effort into the competition.

“I stopped showering for a week after I first heard about Battle of the Bulbs to reduce water usage,” he said.

But losing Battle of the Bulbs has not discouraged Li’s budding environmentalism, and he said that he will continue to make sacrifices in his everyday life.

“I wish I could say I was environmentally inspired by Oprah, but I haven’t been watching TV because it uses too much energy,” he said.