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LSU's Annual UNPLUG Energy Conservation Competition Educates Students on Sustainable Practices

It's always good to unplug every now and then, but did you also know that it's good for the environment and can save money at the same time?

UNPLUG Energy Conservation Competition
Video: UNPLUG Energy Conservation Competition

LSU students living in on-campus residence halls and apartments put that practice to the test last month, as they participated in the fourth annual UNPLUG Energy Conservation Competition.

UNPLUG pits 10 residential communities against one another each year to see who can conserve the most electricity for three weeks in March. The program is hosted each year by LSU Residential Life, the LSU Students in Free Enterprise – or SIFE – chapter and LSU Campus Sustainability.

UNPLUG seeks to promote an understanding throughout the LSU on-campus community of what energy conservation entails by empowering students to take action in their daily lives. This is done by working to reduce the students' own personal carbon footprint and, consequently, increase the university's contribution to conservation of resources and more efficient energy practices.

"Through educating and motivating students on how small adjustments in their daily routines can positively impact the world around them, the organizations involved in this competition seek to help the LSU community practice energy efficiency in everyday living," said Colby Kinder, residence life coordinator for Miller Hall and sustainability education eommittee chair for LSU Residential Life.

On-campus residential communities that took part in this year's competition included Miller Hall; Herget Hall; the Blake Hall and McVoy Hall community; the Honors Community of West Laville and Acadian halls; the Horseshoe Community of Evangeline, Highland, Annie Boyd and Louise Garig halls; the Broussard/Pentagon community, which includes Broussard Hall and the Pentagon halls of Beauregard, Taylor, LeJeune and Jackson; the Residential College One Community of West and South Halls; Kirby Smith Hall; East Campus Apartments; and West Campus Apartments.

Kinder said that the resident assistants, or RAs, for each building were trained in what she called "sustainable leadership," which educated them on how to speak to students about issues regarding sustainability and how they could better incorporate such practices into their lives.

"Also, through our one-on-one connection program between RAs and residents, we built in a sustainability question to see where they are and what they're doing in terms of practice," she said. "From there, we hoped it would be a trickle-down theory, which it really has been. All of the RAs are committed to this. Whether it's putting up bulletin boards with information or telling residents face to face about programs like UNPLUG, it trickles down into the halls. Having the professional staff members and RAs buy into the program has been a great help. Everyone's on the page of sustainability this year."

This year's UNPLUG competition also continued to incorporate the "Do One Thing," or DOT, campaign, created by Saatchi & Saatchi. DOT is a nationwide movement in which participants make an online pledge to "Do One Thing" for environmental sustainability. A DOT pledge can be anything from unplugging charger devices when not in use, walking instead of driving or using reusable bags when shopping. The goal of DOT is to show how everyone's small DOT can together to make a much larger impact. According to the Saatchi & Saatchi website, 32 million DOTs have been created by the company's partners and clients, while 3,000 DOTs have been submitted by members of the Saatchi & Saatchi network and 11,500 DOTs have been registered by U.S. universities and high schools. For more information on the "Do One Thing" campaign, visit www.strategyforsustainability.com/do-one-thing.

LSU UNPLUG
The UNPLUG energy conservation competition challenges students in on-campus residence halls and apartments to conserve as energy over a three-week period as they can. Suggested practices include turning off lights when they are not needed, using timed power surge protectors and not leaving unused charging cables plugged into outlets.
Eddy Perez/LSU University Relations

As part of the competition, in-hall professionals recorded utility meter readings at each building to monitor progress. The residence hall building and the apartment community with the greatest reduction in energy usage, as compared to a baseline average of two weeks prior to the competition, were declared the winners.

In the 2012 UNPLUG competition, participating residence halls and apartments saved a total of 3,961 Kw/h in energy consumption, which translates into enough electricity to power between 30 to 40 homes for one month.

East Campus Apartments won the apartment buildings competition with an average reduction of 20.65 percent for all the competing buildings. Meanwhile, in the residence hall competition, Beauregard Hall finished in first place with an overall reduction average of 12.8 percent. Highland and Louise Garig halls tied for second place with 11.2-percent reduction each, with Herget Hall in third place with an average reduction of 10.9 percent.

The two winning communities' residents were invited to a celebration event on April 3, featuring an ice cream buffet and prizes. Attendees also received reusable cups and recycled napkins to minimize the waste of the event, as well as reusable bags for future uses.           

Power learning

In the weeks leading up to the UNPLUG competition and during kickoff events held on March 8, on-campus residents took part in hall pre-program educational sessions headed by the university's SIFE chapter. The programs helped students to learn about sustainable efforts and to help them choose their respective DOT pledges. Students were educated on how to reduce energy consumption by making small adjustments to daily behaviors.

"We're working to help create an awareness of how things we normally do affect energy usage," said Elin Dilley, a member of LSU's SIFE chapter. "We want to show students how to reduce energy consumption by making small adjustments to daily behaviors. It's little things that, when they're added up, can be quite a lot."

LSU's SIFE chapter has been extremely active since its beginning, averaging 12 to 15 service projects per year both on and off campus. These service projects are centered on the basics of free enterprise – free market economics, personal success skills, entrepreneurship, financial success skills, business ethics and environmental sustainability. To learn more about LSU's SIFE chapter, visit http://www.lsu.edu/student_organizations/sife.

A new aspect in this year's UNPLUG competition was the implementation of "Green Bandits," student representatives clad in homemade green superhero costumes who visited the residential halls to educate students on easy ways to reduce the energy usage in their rooms.

"These are some fun people that are excited about sustainability," Kinder said of the group of eight RA students that comprise the Green Bandit corps. "They were the ones that stepped up in RA training and showed a big interest in sustainability education. They wanted to be the ones to tell the residents about it because they're passionate about it themselves. They have genuine conversations with residents and even had their pictures taken a few times."

Also new this year is the use of a room in Evangeline Hall to serve as a mock "green" room. Adorned with messages promoting sustainable ideas and items such as remote-controlled surge protectors, BPA-free water bottles and decorative origami, the room is equipped to show different ways students living in residential halls can make their living space more efficient. During visits to the room, students could suggest other ideas for sustainable practices and talk with others about what they do in their own rooms to conserve utilities.

Suzanne Perron Book Trailer
A mock "green" room in Evangeline Hall featured examples of "green" items students can find as alternatives, as well as suggestions for how students can institute sustainable practices into their everyday lives.
Eddy Perez/LSU University Relations

"We wanted to give students the chance to go in and have visual examples of how they could practice more sustainable things in their dorm or apartment," Kinder said. "It shows them items they could purchase or repurpose for a different use, while also explaining practices like turning the lights off when they're not necessarily needed. We wanted to give them a chance to see these things in action in an example of what an ideal room may look like. It's by no means 100 percent green, but it gives ideas to prospective students and their parents coming in on tours as well as current students."

Residential Life Associate Director of Facilities Karen Rockett said that the mock green room idea originated from literature pertaining to sustainability.

"It took off because the students were so excited about it," she said. "Everybody had ideas on what could be included in the room, which allowed it to grow from there. The mock green room was a way of showing students ways they can help."

The "Green Bandits" and the mock "green room" worked to bring to light common energy consumption mistakes that many people make every day, Kinder said.

"Many people don't realize that certain things left plugged in to receptacles can still drain electricity when not in use. We call those ‘energy vampires,'" she said. "Things like cell phone chargers and laptop computer power cords still pull electricity when plugged in, even if they're not operating. Simply unplugging those devices from the wall when you're not using them can make a difference over time."

In addition to the residence halls and apartments competing against one another, they were also contributing collectively to the university's part in a larger contest. This was the first year that the UNPLUG competition was held as part of Campus Conservation Nationals 2012, a nationwide electricity and water use reduction competition among 150 colleges and universities. The competition was created by The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council through its Students Program and in partnership with Lucid, Alliance to Save Energy and the National Wildlife Federation. To learn more, visit www.competetoreduce.org.

"The LSU name carries a lot of impact across the nation, and Campus Conservation Nationals really wanted to promote that we were taking part this year," Kinder said. "When we say that we're taking part in a national competition, a lot of responses from the students included, ‘Is Alabama competing in it?' or ‘Is Tulane competing in it?' That shows the competitive spirit that LSU is known for having and helped to get a lot of people involved."

Use of the Internet and social media has also helped to spread the word about this year's UNPLUG campaign. Students were urged to update Facebook and Twitter with their plans to conserve energy, while also including hashtags and links for UNPLUG, the Compete to Reduce campaign and LSU. Residents and the greater campus community were able to follow the results at the LSU Campus Conservation National Lucid Dashboard at http://buildingdashboard.net/lsu/.

"Campus Conservation National has a dedicated page for Facebook and Twitter posts, and we wanted to really utilize that this year to get the word out not only in the residential buildings on campus, but outside of LSU and on a national level," Kinder said. "In the kickoff events, we gave students the chance to tweet or post their ‘Do One Thing' pledge and win a pair of UNPLUG sunglasses. We also had the Residential Life Facebook and Twitter accounts and the Campus Sustainability Facebook page involved as well, posting information on UNPLUG's progress and suggestions for how to be more sustainable."

Less is more

In its four years of operation, UNPLUG has shown that small changes in daily routines can hold great benefit.

The 2011 UNPLUG competition yielded an average 3.7-percent reduction in energy consumption among competing communities. The reduction translated to estimated savings of $2,470. UNPLUG yielded an average 14-percent reduction in energy consumption in the 2010 competition, an estimated $10,368 in savings. In the inaugural UNPLUG competition in 2009, an average 18-percent reduction in energy consumption was realized, translating to an estimated $13,763 in savings. Savings from the competition go toward defraying costs for building improvements and also help to offset future rent increases.

LSU UNPLUG Top Five

Rockett said that while the percentages in savings may appear to be low, UNPLUG continues to have a profound effect toward a decrease in utility usage in the residential buildings.

"Obviously, when there's a decrease in usage, there is a cost effective savings," she said. "While at this point, it may not be an extremely high percentage of savings, seeing 10 to 14 percent savings through UNPLUG each year is a great start."

The impact of programs like UNPLUG is mainly felt in showing students what changes in their everyday practices can affect, Rockett said.

"While there's an obvious cost savings with it, I think the biggest thing that it does is make people aware of what they're doing," she said. "We're moving towards that with the newer implementations, including the online dashboard to show students how much we're saving, what that translates to and where the savings they're helping to make are going."

The UNPLUG competition has been lauded since its inception in 2009. That year, the program was awarded an Environmental Leadership Program, or ELP, Award in Pollution Prevention from the Louisiana State Department of Environmental Quality. The ELP awards recognize businesses, communities, schools and universities for their commitment toward improving the quality of Louisiana's environment through environmental stewardship. In 2010, UNPLUG's energy conservation efforts received top honors from the Southern Public Relations Federation, or SPRF, at its annual conference. The prestigious Lantern Award recognized the UNPLUG competition as a top regional, short-term public relations campaign.

Rockett said that while UNPLUG is only in its fourth year, Residential Life has been working for many years to incorporate sustainable practices into the workings of on-campus residence buildings at LSU.

"There are things that we're doing behind the scenes that a lot of people don't know, including recycling programs, the use of compact florescent bulbs, energy monitoring and other aspects," she said. "We've had recycling programs in place for the residence halls since 2000, but it's really seen a lot of success within the past four years."

Campus Sustainability Manager Denise Newell said that she feels UNPLUG is one of many methods used to create a culture of sustainability at LSU.

"Through the UNPLUG campaign, many are learning how their daily lives are connected to the resource conservation," she said. "Resource conservation is connected to less waste and dollars saved. UNPLUG fosters a partnership between our people, our education and our operations. This is what campus sustainability at LSU is all about."

For more information on the UNPLUG competition, including tips on how to conserve utilities, visit http://unplug.lsu.edu.