A Powerful Challenge

Students, faculty and staff compete to have the lowest energy footprint this semester.

October 01, 2012

Beginning today, George Washington University faculty and staff can vie against one another to see who can reduce the most energy in their homes.

The GW Energy Challenge at Home, which will run until Dec. 31, will encourage GW faculty and staff to track their home electricity consumption through an online platform.

At the same time, GW students will be competing to reduce their electricity and water consumption in their residence halls through the university’s Eco-Challenge.

For the new staff energy reduction competition, GW will work with Opower, a customer engagement platform that helps people use energy more efficiently and ultimately save money on their energy bills. All faculty and staff are invited to sign up for the challenge using their personal Facebook profiles. There is no cost to sign up. Participants will then enter in their electricity consumption detailed on their utility bills to Opower’s online platform. Faculty and staff can then compare their usage with other GW participants.

GW is the first university to pilot this type of faculty and staff energy reduction competition using Opower.

“We're proud to partner with Opower – an edgy, green and groundbreaking company – to provide this online competition for GW faculty and staff,” said Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW’s Office of Sustainability. “We hope the competition provides the incentive for staff and faculty to consider their energy consumption and impact on the planet. I've already signed up for the competition, and I encourage all of those interested to do the same.”

Lisa Benton-Short, the academic program director for sustainability and the interim director of GW’s Institute for Sustainability, is planning to sign up for the challenge because she wants to learn more about her energy consumption at home.

“I think that when you enter a challenge, you pay far more attention to things you usually take for granted like how often we use the air conditioning or heat or how many computers we leave plugged in,” said Dr. Benton-Short, an assistant professor of geography in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “An energy challenge can help us better understand the types of changes we need to make to move toward becoming more sustainable.” 

Samantha McGovern, a project coordinator for facilities in GW’s Division of Operations, is also hoping that by practicing energy conservation habits at home, faculty and staff will bring those same habits to their office and classrooms, which will help lower GW’s carbon footprint.

Ms. McGovern, who describes herself as “super competitive,” said she’s excited to see how she compares to her colleagues and to set an example for GW students.

“I think it’s only fair for me to practice the habits at home that I encourage students to use here,” she said. “If I can share the habits I have installed in my home successfully, it will be easier to talk to them about the habits they can have in their residence halls.”

The fifth annual Eco-Challenge, which kicked off on Aug. 31 and runs to Nov. 30, encourages students to conserve electricity and water in their residence halls by doing things like turning off lights, unplugging unused chargers, turning off the faucet while brushing their teeth and air drying laundry. The challenge is sponsored by the Division of Operations including Facilities Services and the Office of Sustainability.

“The largest impact that students can have on the university's environmental footprint is through reducing electricity and water consumption in their residence halls,” said Shannon Ross, stakeholder engagement coordinator in the Office of Sustainability. “We're very excited about the increased interest from students this year, and we hope that this year's challenge is the best yet.”

Student eco-reps lead their individual residence halls in the Eco-Challenge by hosting events, posting environmental conservation tips and creating a competitive spirit among students.

Sophomore Michelle Stuhlmacher, an eco-rep in Schenley Hall, plans to encourage her fellow peers to choose the bright colors setting, which washes clothes in cold water, when doing laundry since it doesn’t use energy to heat the water and to be proactive about submitting Fix-It requests for leaks throughout the residence hall.

“Eco-Challenge is a great opportunity to educate GW on simple changes that people can make to live a more sustainable and Earth-friendly life,” said Ms. Stuhlmacher, a student in Columbian College. “When students go off to college they have to create a new lifestyle, and the Eco-Challenge reminds GW students that being green is an important part of living on our own.”

This year, the residence hall that reduces its water and electricity consumption the most will win a sustainable renovation or prize for their hall such as a water bottle filling station or an energy-efficient big-screen television. The prize will be determined in partnership with the winning residence hall.

While Ms. Stuhlmacher hopes Schenley will win the competition, she also hopes students will change their habits permanently and not just during Eco-Challenge.

“Earth is a wonderfully diverse place, but unless we change the way we act and use resources, it won’t be preserved for future generations,” said Ms. Stuhlmacher. “If you make a change in your lifestyle for Eco-Challenge, try to keep it up all year. By being good stewards of our resources, we are doing ourselves a favor.”

GW faculty and staff offices interested in learning how to incorporate sustainability into their work can sign-up for the Green Office Program through the Office of Sustainability by emailing [email protected]. Students interested in serving as eco-reps and helping with RecycleMania and other sustainability projects in the spring can contact [email protected].

Student Life