Student-Led Energy, Water Competition Boasts Big Savings

tritowers-challenge-2016A little rivalry can be a good thing — especially when it comes to saving energy and water. In just 28 days, a student-led energy and water challenge between residents of three NC State University Housing residence halls resulted in $12,000 of avoided utility costs.

The annual Tri-Towers Energy and Water Challenge involved about 1,100 residents in Metcalf Hall, Bowen Hall and Carroll Hall competing for the greatest building reduction in utility use. Armed with information on conservation behaviors with the biggest impact — such as taking shorter showers, turning off lights and unplugging electronics — residents conserved from Oct. 3 through 31.

“Competitions like these are important because they give students the opportunity to become more conscious of their energy and water usage, in addition to educating them on simple ways to reduce their use,” said environmental engineering student Allison Bryan, who organized this year’s competition. “We hope that residents will take knowledge they gained during the challenge and incorporate it into their everyday habits and behaviors.”

Bryan is a member of the NC State Stewards, a group of sustainability student leaders that volunteer with the University Sustainability Office. The Stewards have organized the Tri-Towers Energy and Water Challenge annually since 2014 with the goal of reducing campus energy and water use while also increasing student sustainability efforts. Though the cumulative impact of all the Challenges tops $31,000 in avoided utility costs, University Housing Energy Engineer Sean Fokes said the competition’s primary benefit is education.

“My primary motivation is raising awareness among the students about the cost of the utilities they rely on every day, and how much of that consumption is and isn’t within their ability to control,” Fokes said.

In partnership with Fokes, the NC State Stewards selected the Tri-Towers for the competition because they’re nearly identical, medium-sized residence halls that each have their own utility meters. So many similarities are also a great recipe for friendly rivalry.

“The rivalry between residents of each buildings is probably the largest motivator in these challenges — they thrive on competition between students,” Bryan said.

Before the challenge, members of the NC State Stewards meet with residence hall directors and advisors, who encourage students to participate. Building utility meters are read weekly and information about current competition standings are e-mailed to Tri-Towers residents.

“Each year when the challenge comes around, it’s a cool way to remind students how much of an impact our energy and water use can have,” said Taylor Mercado, Carroll Hall Residence Director. “There is a huge draw to being sustainable on campus so the students like it, making it easy to keep them engaged.”

This year residents of Carroll Hall emerged as the winner, reducing energy use by 36.5 percent and water use by 13.4 percent. Previous champions include Metcalf Hall, which won in April 2014 and October 2014, and Bowen Hall, which won the October 2015 challenge.

A new element to this year’s challenge was a conservation competition against three Clemson University residence halls during the week of the NC State-Clemson football game. Tri-Towers residents led the Wolfpack to a sound victory over the Tigers in water and energy use reduction.

“We received great feedback [from Tri-Towers residents] about the Clemson portion of the challenge. With the exception of the first week of October, which included fall break, the week we competed against Clemson generally had larger reductions than other weeks throughout the month,” Bryan said.

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