Indiana University's Energy Challenge

By Cassiday Moriarty, Earth Charter Indiana intern

Indiana University Bloomington’s Office of Sustainability hosts a challenge during the fall semester to raise awareness for decreasing energy usage known as the Energy Challenge. The IU Office of Sustainability describes it as a “semesterly competition between various campus buildings, from dorms and apartments, academic buildings, athletic buildings, and Greek houses, to see who can save the most electricity and water over the course of the Challenge.” This challenge relies heavily on word of mouth, flyers, and events to spread the word in relation to it.

As the Director of Sustainability for Read Residence Hall in the Residence Hall Association, one of my jobs is to do anything I can to make this a success for my own residence hall. Currently, I have posted flyers around the building and will be posting more. However, I am excited to say that the flyers are repurposed. I have spent over an hour walking around the building and carefully taking down old flyers, then printing on the other side to save paper. I am trying to get to the point where flyers are not used by our organization and at the very least used on reused paper products. This itself helps with the Energy Challenge goal.

Overall, the challenge is considered very successful. During the month across campus many building significantly reduce the kWh and gallons of water used. One of the mottos of the campaign is that “It doesn’t take a village” and they use this to convince participants that one person can be the change necessary.

However, there is one major problem with the Energy Challenge. Specifically, there isn’t any direct accountability. Students can take an Energy Challenge Pledge, which helps give them ideas on what they can do to make a difference, such as turning water off when brushing their teeth. But it is a nonbinding contract; students aren’t really encouraged to continue the actions.

Just informing people isn’t enough, they need constant reminders so that the actions will become natural in their day to day lives. Personally, I am struggling with coming up with ways to create accountability for my residence hall. It is very hard to incentivize this type of activity. I place that on the fact that the benefit is non-tangible. The only thing participants really take away from it is a sense of accomplishment that they themselves cannot directly measure.

I’ve noticed after the Energy Challenge is completed at the end of October, people usually just go back to their old routines. Not many kids retain the behaviors. So, my goal is that Read residence hall students will retain some behaviors. I plan on doing an aggressive campaign with tabling, flyers, emails, and programming. This should lead to a percentage of students being hit with every tactic and therefore having more ideas continually engrained and therefore they will retain the behaviors. Which is the overarching goal of the Energy Challenge.

Overall, there is no simple solution to fix the lack of accountability and lack of retention of behavior changes. The Office of Sustainability at Indiana University Bloomington are focusing on one residence hall and completing research of the effectiveness of the Energy Challenge based on the specific variable they are implementing. This research will push forward many sustainability initiatives, particularly because others also suffer from the same problems.

Environmentally focused initiatives benefits are hard to directly witness or measure, and it leads to a smaller portion of people being reached through outreach. Knowing this, IU and its organizations are taking the lead in attempting various solutions to have a greater overall impact on students and the environment.

Andy Fry