The next time you leave your computer on all night, consider your competition. This month, Bowdoin dorms are vying for first place in the fifth-annual energy-conservation competition.

Six first-year dorms, six social houses, and six upperclassmen dorms began the competition on Monday in an effort to reduce the College's impact on the environment, and teach people how they can save energy by altering their habits.

"Bowdoin has been trying a lot of different things to reduce energy," said Kelly Pitts '08, a member of Sustainable Bowdoin and the sustainability assistant for Facilities Management.

"[The competition] is one way to get students involved because a lot of the efforts?hybrid cars, bio-diesel blends?don't really involve students. This is one way to introduce students to how they can conserve energy," she said.

Many of the newer buildings on campus have been designed to use energy more efficiently, such as the green-certified East and West dorms. The renovations to the other first-year bricks have also made the buildings more eco-friendly.

However, according to Pitts, residents of Winthrop Hall, Maine Hall, and a host of other older dorms should not worry: Measures have been taken to level the playing field.

"For the most part, how it's calculated is based on percent improvement, not total kilowatt hours," explained Pitts. To determine this improvement, Facilities Management first takes a reading of each dorm's energy usage before the competition, to gauge a base-line level. Then, halfway through October, a reading from each dorm is taken again, and a last reading is taken at the end of the competition.

Energy used by lights and appliances is taken into account, though not heat. However, students should be aware that heating dorms also requires a good deal of energy. This can be problematic in some of the older dorms, where the heat can occasionally jump to 80 degrees. Instead of throwing the windows open, though, Pitts said that a call to Facilities would fix the problem immediately, and waste substantially less energy.

In addition to obvious steps like shutting off room and bathroom lights, there are a few other tricks for students to reduce their energy consumption, Pitts said.

It takes more energy each day to light the clock on your microwave than using the actual microwave for eight minutes, Pitts said, "so unplug appliances that you're not using. If common spaces aren't being used, turn the lights off, although people are hesitant to do that around campus. Compact fluorescent bulbs last way longer [than regular bulbs do], and they don't use as much energy."

Pitts said that if students want a free compact fluorescent bulb, they can contact Sustainable Bowdoin Coordinator Keisha Payson.

Last year, there was a 13.1 percent reduction in energy use in all of the dorms, and Winthrop Hall placed first in the competition with a reduction of 46.6 percent. In the end, 83,600 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions were prevented from being released into the atmosphere, and the savings totaled 38,768 kilowatt hours.

Though students compete against other dorms, they have been reminded to play by the rules.

"Freshmen get pretty into it?last year they were taking lights out of the ceilings. One of the dorms had construction hooked up into their electric, and they were all paranoid about that," remembers Pitts, referring to Coleman Hall, which actually increased its energy use by 47 percent in the first half of last year's competition.

"I am uber-psyched, and my dorm room lights are off right now," said Maggie Crosland, a first year living in East Hall.

Pitts hopes that by the end of the competition people will have a better sense of the impact they can have on the environment.

"Some of the small things really do relate to the bigger picture of how much oil and coal is burning in the U.S," said Pitts. "Our generation in general doesn't think that we can change things."

"We do need to make changes now, and it's up to our generation to do that," stressed Pitts. "Making everyday changes is a good step in the right direction."