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Student groups working to save energy

By Danielle Gamble
On November 7, 2012

 

Students will strive to cut down on UT’s energy consumption this month with two new programs.

A program named Friday Night Lights begins this week in which volunteers will spread throughout campus and turn off lights left on in academic buildings.

Set up by the Society for Environmental Education and Engineers Without Borders, students will meet in the Student Union Building, then split into groups. Volunteers will take a campus map with 14 academic buildings marked then go to the buildings marked and shut off any lights left on.

Brooke Mason, interim sustainability specialist in the Energy Management Department, said the idea comes from a similar program at Bowling Green State University.

“The whole process should take no more than an hour,” she said. “I’m not sure specifically here, but with my experience at Bowling Green, it takes between 20 and 40 minutes depending on which buildings you get.”

Mason said the plan is to have the lights stay off all weekend and not turned back on until Monday morning. After the kick-off, the event will continue throughout the academic year.

“Any student can come,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what your major is, what your interests are. You just do a little service on a Friday night. You don’t have to sign up, you don’t have to let anyone know if you’re coming or not coming. You can come once every few weeks, you can come once the whole year, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about how much you want to help.”

The group will check the building meters that will tally how much energy is saved.

Mason hopes about $10,000 a semester will be saved.

“From an environmental standpoint, anything saved is successful, because one less light left on is that much more carbon dioxide we’re keeping out of the atmosphere,” Mason said.

Lauren McCafferty, a senior majoring in biology and ecology and president of the Society for Environmental Education, helped organize the event.

She said in the past, her group has tried to organize similar events but was unable to communicate effectively with the administration. That changed when Mason, the university’s first sustainability specialist, was hired.

“I reached out to her immediately with hopes of enlisting her help on our projects, and offering our services for any projects she had,” McCafferty said in an email. “Brooke’s position with Plant Operations has been invaluable, as she has been able to easily communicate with the appropriate parties about the buildings and security, and her connections to other student organizations have really broadened our audience.”

McCafferty said the organizing the event has been a “pretty big task.”

“Any event that is going to occur weekly over a long period of time requires a lot of careful planning by a dedicated leadership team, as well as constant reevaluation of the logistics to make sure that the event is running as smoothly as possible,” she said.

McCafferty said constant re-evaluation of the project will be necessary, as a project of this scale presents many quirks. She said the groups have been working with Plant Operations and UT Police Department to make sure everything goes smoothly.

The first of the month kicked off the other sustainability event, BlackoUT. This program is an energy consumption competition between the on campus residence halls for the month of November.

“We have data from how much energy each hall used last year for the month of November, so we’ll be able to take this month and compare the two,” Mason said. “Because residence halls are different sizes and some have dining halls and things, the way to keep it even is to see who can reduce the energy the most from last year.”

BlackoUT started at the university a few years ago and Mason said previous savings have totaled about $14,000 per a month.

McCafferty said she remembers an earlier form of BlackoUT as a freshman but she felt it was not as well-organized as the updated version.

“It was not advertised very much and a lot of people didn’t know about it,” she said. “I think the ORL has done a really great job of advertising this year, and the program is more comprehensive than ever. There are more aspects to the event than just the energy saving competition, including quite a few educational programs, which is fantastic.”

McCafferty said she hopes the convenience of these events will encourage people to participate. “A lot of volunteer opportunities are off-campus, posing a problem for those without vehicles or those who don’t like to drive much, and a lot of volunteer events require several hours of dedication,” she said. “This is a great way to give back in a convenient place and for a short amount of time before starting the weekend.

McCafferty said she has seen the university’s sustainability initiatives improve greatly over the years, and she hopes to see that continue.

“It is now crucial that we don’t lose that momentum - we need to keep moving forward with sustainability initiatives, both by improving and expanding the things I’ve already mentioned, and by constantly coming up with new ideas for new initiatives to get students involved in,” she said.

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