Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Students help lead conservation on campus

If the best carbon offset is the carbon that isn’t used at all, then University of Denver students who live in residence halls have set the bar high.

A fall-quarter competition among residence halls saw students reduce energy and water use across the board. Overall, students doing everything from turning down the thermostat to taking shorter showers slashed water use by more than a million gallons and slashed electricity use by more than 100,000 kilowatt hours, successfully keeping nearly 190,000 pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere.

“The results far exceeded anything we expected,” says Christy Cerrone, assistant director of DU Housing and Residential Education. “There was so much enthusiasm, students really got involved and made a difference.”

Throughout the fall quarter, students were reminded of the conservation challenge with signs such as “Don’t gush when you brush” (turn off the water when brushing teeth), “Flip it Off” (turn off lights) and even “Don’t be a Drip” (bring a towel to the bathroom rather than use paper towels to dry hands).

Several local and campus business donated prizes to the contest. Campus Cycles donated two cruiser bikes, Denver Water donated $250 (used to buy TOMS shoes) and the DU Bookstore donated environmentally friendly school supplies. The prizes were used as incentives for students to make a pledge to help the environment or to nominate friends and neighbors’ efforts that make a difference. There were nearly 200 nominations and pledges. DU Facilities contributed $1,000 for a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream party at Nelson Hall to wrap things up.

Also during fall quarter, a conservation blitz at residence halls helped reduce natural gas, electricity and water consumption. The grand prize went to Nelson Hall, which saw a 28.9 percent drop in electricity usage and an 8 percent cut in natural gas usage. Residents also used 14.5 percent less water.

DU Energy Engineer Tom McGee says warm weather helped cut some costs, but the biggest factor was students’ willingness to turn down the thermostat and wear a sweater on chilly days.

In the past three years, McGee says, DU has reduced its carbon footprint by nearly 10 percent, with more cuts anticipated in the coming year. Already this year, the campus community has seen energy saving measures such as lights that turn off in unused restrooms. Administrators continue to explore options such as incorporating solar panels and working with the city of Denver to bring so-called “gray water” lines for irrigation, instead of using potable water.

“We were so successful with this fall campaign,” Cerrone says. “We’re hoping that those little things that everyone pitched in and did together as part of the competition just become habit, a regular way of doing things that saves energy and resources and helps us reduce our carbon footprint.”

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