Sustainability Institute promotes efficient energy use, challenges UNH campus

By Greg Laudani, Staff Writer

Don’t forget to turn out the lights.

UNH Unplugged is an annual challenge during the month of November designed to promote sustainable and energy-efficient lifestyle changes for students.

The Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire developed the challenge in 2006 to put on-campus residence halls to the test with students competing to use less energy than their total from the previous year. The hall with the greatest difference in usage is crowned the winner.

According to the institute, UNH dorms average 19,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year, which is equivalent to nearly 30,000 barrels of oil.

Jackie Cullen, the institute’s communications and information coordinator, said these numbers brought about the need for change.

“The whole point of this in the large scope of things is that we need behavior change on campus in terms of conserving energy and bringing down emissions,” Cullen said.

According to Cullen, students and faculty are using more energy on campus than they need to which releases more harmful emissions into the environment.

Colleen Flaherty, administrative assistant at the Sustainability Institute, pointed out the other negative effect of wasteful habits: wasted money. She said the institute also promotes the challenge to teach students about the financial benefits of living sustainably.

“These are good habits to have, not just for the environment, but also for your wallet,” Flaherty said. “[UNH Unplugged is] about communicating how you can be efficient in your lifestyle, how you can save energy and how to make changes to your everyday habits … And take that information and apply it not just when you’re living in the dorms, but when you move off campus to an apartment or once you graduate and are living somewhere on your own.”

Turning off lights when not in a room, taking quicker showers and keeping windows closed during the winter are just a few ways Flaherty said students can save energy.

UNH Unplugged is designed to promote student-to-student communication about energy.

The institute works in conjunction with the Environmental Advocates, a group established to spread news about the department’s initiatives and events to students. According to Flaherty, having the Environmental Advocates is a big help in getting on-campus residents involved in the challenge.

“They help get the word out about the challenge and come up with ways for people within the residence halls to get really jazzed up about the challenge,” Flaherty said. “Competitions are a great way to get people excited, especially when there are prizes involved.”

Past winners have earned a pizza party as the challenge has received a positive response from students, according to Flaherty. She mentioned how it can be difficult for people to juggle their daily responsibilities and still make the time to think about being energy efficient.

“The response has been positive, but it can be difficult,” Flaherty said. “The issue, even outside the university, is making these sort of lifestyle changes habit. Some of these lifestyle changes are not particularly difficult, so it’s just about getting in the habit of it.”

Cullen said it is not easy to get students to feel empowered enough to go around and tell people to save energy. The institute and Environmental Advocates encourage students to get involved using whatever methods they are comfortable with.

“I always tell students that if that’s the dynamic of your hall, to go door-to-door and joke around with people, by all means,” Cullen said. “But maybe another dorm will want to have some socials and put up flyers instead. That is okay, too, as long as the message is getting out.”

Some students have made extensive efforts to make UNH a more sustainable campus. Flaherty discussed an example of students going above and beyond to promote energy efficiency.

“A couple of years ago, we had students going around shutting off all the lights in academic buildings on Friday nights,” Flaherty said. “That’s the type of initiative where students took the challenge a step further to the academic buildings. So overall, the UNH students are great about getting onboard with sustainability projects.”

Despite the positive response from students, there is still more work to be done. UNH Facilities does considerable work with a firm focus on sustainability. According to Flaherty, however, it does not matter if there is a low-flow showerhead if people are taking hour-long showers. She said the challenge is meant to raise awareness and educate students about being more productive with resources.

Flaherty repeated the importance of the challenge being a group effort in order to truly make a difference.

“It really takes a lot of people to be working to save energy to have a significant impact on efficiency and on saving energy,” Flaherty said. “So building that community that is centered on that goal of living more sustainably and developing sustainable habits is really important, too.”