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Groups urge students to cut energy use over winter break

by: Julia Osellame    12 December 2006

With winter break approaching, campus environmental groups have mounted a campaign to leave energy consumption out in the cold.

The Pull-the-Plug campaign which has been advertised with posters and table tents at Frist and the residential colleges asks students to sign the "Plug Pledge," agreeing to unplug appliances, switch off lights, shut windows and turn down thermostats before they leave for break in an effort to reduce energy consumption.

"There's a lot of awareness on campus about global warming, and this is something super easy that everyone can do to help Princeton reduce its carbon footprint," said Rebecca Lutzy GS, a SURGE (Students United for a Responsible Global Environment) representative.

SURGE, along with support from Eco-Reps, Greening Princeton and Water Watch, has been leading the educational effort to encourage students to reduce their carbon footprint, the amount of carbon dioxide each person's activities emit into the air.

Volunteers from Eco-Reps, SURGE and Greening Princeton will enter dorm rooms accompanied by a housing representative on Dec. 16 to see if they are in compliance. In addition to recording data, the volunteers will close windows, turn down thermostats and unplug microwaves, battery chargers, televisions and computers.

To ensure the safety and respect of the students whose rooms are being checked, volunteers must take a 30-minute training session sponsored by the Housing Department.

There is not enough manpower to enter every room on campus, Greening Princeton member Barclay Satterfield GS said, but priority will be given to rooms that have a personal thermostat that students would have to turn off themselves. Signing the pledge does not affect whether one's room is checked.

"From all the lights getting turned off and the thermostats being turned down, the Pull-the-Plug campaign will save more energy than any other student-initiated conservation program at Princeton," Meredith Thompson '08, student director of Eco-Reps, said in an email.

A comprehensive project

Over Thanksgiving break, Eco-Reps collected data in a few dorms to test the need for a larger campaign.

"It was shocking how many students left their thermostats all the way up, windows open and fans on," Thompson said.

The Thanksgiving break project gave the Eco-Reps, SURGE and facilities representatives the incentive to perform a larger campaign in the hopes that increased knowledge about personal activities would lead to lower energy demands when the University is not in session.

"Awareness of campus conservation habits is a good starting point for an incentive to change daily habits," Thompson said.

"Once we have a substantial amount of data on Princeton's energy consumption over winter break, we'll have some pretty good reasons why each student should become more environmentally conscious."

Facilities has done three such turn-down campaigns in order to conserve energy, but has not analyzed the data collected from these events.

This data will be combined with data from the Pull-the-Plug campaign to compile a report about carbon dioxide emissions and energy usage as well as money saved by turning down thermostats over breaks.

The goal of this campaign is to educate students, said campus sustainability manager Shana Weber so that energy conservation can be achieved without representatives having to enter dorm rooms to unplug students' electronics.

Local results, global impact

On a local level, the campaign aims to reduce the more than 120,000 tons of carbon dioxide the University emits per year. Electricity use accounts for more than half of that amount, Energy Plant Manager Ted Borer said in an email, and 65,000 tons of the carbon dioxide emissions are associated with the delivering of steam for heating and chilled water for air conditioning.

"The United States is responsible for the largest percentage of the world's [carbon dioxide] emissions," Weber said. "We have [a bigger] carbon footprint per person in this country than anyone else in the world."

In the wake of increased global awareness of the effects of carbon emissions, University environmental groups, like the newly formed SURGE, have been more vocal about global warming issues.

"Local actions have a real and measurable global impact," Weber said. "It's not possible to live disconnected from other people anymore. We are part of the problem."