Burnett House was victorious in this year’s “Do it in the Dark” energy savings competition, demonstrating the greatest reduction in overall energy use since September (30.8 percent) and the lowest energy use per person. 

The competition, started by Sustainable Bowdoin in 2001, is an annual tradition aimed to push environmental awareness to the foreground of students’ minds. For the month of October, residence halls and College Houses compete to be the most green. 

Altogether, the 20 participating residence halls saved 16,585 kilowatt-hours of energy electricity—equivalent to 12,803 pounds of carbon dioxide—a slight increase from last year.

Coles Tower came in second place, with 27.3 percent decrease in energy use, while Helmreich House finished third with a 26.2 percent reduction. Osher Hall fared the best of the first-year bricks, with a reduction of 12.6 percent. Hyde Hall had the lowest energy use per square foot.
By holding the event early in the academic year, Coordinator for a Sustainable Bowdoin Keisha Payson and her colleagues hope to encourage energy-saving habits that will extend throughout the rest of the year. 

“It does get into people’s mindset, and that’s the whole idea,” Andrew Cushing ’12, sustainability outreach assistant, said. “If people can go a month with turning off the lights or shutting down their computers or unplugging phantom-loading electronics, then hopefully in November and December and January those same behaviors persist.” 

Throughout the year, but especially during the month of October, student EcoReps motivate residents of their assigned College House or dorm to adopt environmentally friendly practices.

“My main job was to raise people’s awareness of the small, tangible things they could do to reduce their output,” Appleton EcoRep Kenny Shapiro ’17 said. “That was a lot of reminding people to unplug things, to work outside the dorm at night, and also things that weren’t necessarily directly related to the competition, like using less water and using hand towels.”

Figuring out how to award and acknowledge everyone’s efforts fairly has been a difficult task for Payson and Cushing.

Long-standing energy-saving habits can actually hinder a residences’ success in the competition by focusing on improvement from a starting point and leaving little room for improvement. Reed House, for instance, has fared poorly the past several years because its residents had already been practicing highly efficient behaviors, according to Payson. This October, they decreased their energy use by just 7.8 percent. 

Holding the competition in October—the same month the heating is turned on—also poses challenges, especially for Howell House, whose inefficient water heating system uses a disproportionate amount of energy compared to that of other residences. This year, Howell showed a 30.1 percent increase in energy usage, almost the same percentage by which Burnett decreased their usage.  

To encourage all energy-saving efforts, Payson and Cushing evaluate the residences’ energy consumption in a variety of categories that include the least  amount of energy per person and per square foot, not just the highest percentage of energy reduction, as in previous years. 
Although it is only the first week of November, some of these newly developed habits show potential to last. 

“I’ve heard so many people use the elevator now that the competition’s over,” Hyde’s EcoRep, Miguel Holmes ’17 said, “but the hallway lights still stay off. One day it was really rainy and dark out and people turned the lights on only at night. I think they came to realize—which is good—that you don’t really need the hallway lights on.”