While GW’s eco-challenge has urged students to think greener, more than half of residence halls actually increased their water and energy consumption during this year’s contest.
During this fall’s four-month energy-saving competition, a hallmark of University President Steven Knapp’s sustainability strategy, 19 out of 30 participating halls consumed more energy. Five of the 11 halls that conserved energy showed double-digit savings.
Residents in 13 halls increased their water consumption: City Hall’s went up 100 percent, and Philip Amsterdam Hall’s grew by more than 150 percent. Nine of the 16 halls that saved water showed double-digit decreases. One hall made no change.
The dismal results show a potential roadblock in GW’s ambitious plans to drastically reduce its eco-footprint over the next few decades, aiming to cut carbon emissions 40 percent by 2040 among other goals. Most would need students – the biggest energy users on campus – to get on board for GW to see substantial differences.
Shannon Ross, a communications coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, said the rise in this year’s energy usage could stem from greater air conditioning use during one of the hottest years on record. She said students would need to change their behavior for the University’s climate plans to succeed.
“Student engagement in the eco-challenge is very important in fulfilling GW’s Climate Action Plan,” Ross said. “While we continue to make technological improvements to our buildings on campus, these actions will not be sufficient without the involvement of everyone in the GW community.”
Director of the Office of Sustainability Meghan Chapple-Brown said this year’s challenge, which ran from Aug. 30 to Nov. 30, saw the most participation yet, with all but two of the University’s halls participating. At least one resident must commit his or her building to the challenge, which occurred in all but two halls this year.
This year’s challenge winner, Crawford Hall, saved 67 percent more water than its average from the last five years. The Hall on Virginia Avenue, which came in second, conserved the most electricity, with 44 percent more energy saved than the previous five-year average.
The sustainability office touted an increase in “eco-reps,” or students who opt to help GW promote the program. This year, 100 students volunteered. The office also charged the Residence Hall Association with spreading the word through posters, Facebook groups and building emails.
Next year, GW plans to step up its promotion of power strips as energy-savers that allow users to turn off multiple devices – like a printer, computer and desk lamp – with one central switch.
“Where we all can improve is continuing to educate each other about our energy usage,” Ross said.
Still,15 of 20 students surveyed outside of residence halls across campus said they didn’t know or didn’t think students cared about the challenge.
Freshman Ryan Moorman, a Crawford resident, said there was not a sense of competition amongst residence halls, which makes spreading the word difficult.
“It was kind of hard to tell that there was a competition just because of how the program is set up,” Moorman said. “There is no direct interaction between the dorms in the competition itself.”
Moorman added that he was not pleased with the chosen prize for winning eco-challenge – a catered dinner. He said he wanted students to “choose to reinvest a little more in the environmentally-friendly aspect, rather than food.”
Other prize options included an energy-efficient television for the lobby, water bottles and power strips. Crawford’s RHA representatives also met with University President Steven Knapp.
Bhairvi Trivedi, another Crawford resident, said she didn’t actively participate, but had heard about the challenge.
GW has tried to excite students about conserving energy as it dreams up bigger sustainability initiatives. The plan includes expanding the eco-challenge as well as incentivizing alternate commute options for faculty and staff.
The office promoted a new prize this semester – a sustainable upgrade for the winning hall – to ramp up student participation. Halfway through the challenge, the frontrunners in the Hall on Virginia Avenue were awarded a behind-the-scenes tour of the sustainable restaurant Founding Farmers.
Daniel Edwards, a junior living in City Hall, said students’ “incentive is gone” because they don’t pay monthly utilities bills and therefore don’t care about saving energy and water.
“You can’t expect people to be motivated for something that they’re only going to see the benefits of for a short amount of time. The prize is not worthy of you putting in the effort,” Edwards said.
Adam Silverman contributed to this report.