Alyssa Rosenthal: Making the eco-challenge sustainable

When was the last time you took a shower that was less than 5 minutes long? Did you turn the lights off before you last left your bedroom? The University’s eco-challenge wants to help you remember those simple energy saving tactics by holding a school-wide competition to see which residence hall can be the most environmentally friendly.

Even with the University-wide focus on sustainability, I can’t say I see much of a difference in student’s behavior. And while the goals of the eco-challenge – which comes to a close Nov. 30 – are laudable, the lack of student action in the program demonstrates a growing need for the University to make major adjustments to the competition if it expects students to really take energy and water use seriously.

West Hall, the University’s shiny new LEED-certified building, which houses the Green Earth Year living and learning cohort, is in 15th place. Clearly, something is not right.

The eco-challenge measures this year’s percent of electricity and water usage against last year’s percent. If last year was a year of environmentally friendly students in West Hall, they just screwed over this year’s residents in the challenge for their dormitory. And if no one actively cared about the carbon footprint in one building last year it makes it that much easier for the students living there to win the gold this year.

The University should measure each residence hall’s conservation by the average use of electricity and water based on the number of people in the building in any given year, giving the statistics more authority.

Residence halls are not stable home environments. Every year, a new set of students comes to inhabit the place. So why is the eco-challenge measuring last year’s batch of students against this year’s?

There is also no incentive for students to win the eco-challenge, either. This is not the say the University should shower the winning residence hall with gobs of baked goods or Domino’s pizza, but unfortunately, students aren’t that intrinsically driven by the knowledge that their residence hallmates were collectively sustainable. The knowledge of winning a challenge in which students hardly take an active role is not enough.

It is time for the University to not simply challenge students to partake in it, but to measure it properly while they’re at it, and then reward the most eco-friendly residence hall. If they do not give the proper recognition to those who are actively being sustainable, what’s the point?

The respectable goals of the competition are being sucked up as quickly as the campus sucks up energy. The University needs to fix the faulty light bulb in the system, just like students need to fix faulty light bulbs for the challenge.

It’d be a shame to see it flicker and die out.

Alyssa Rosenthal, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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