Next month, energy-conscious freshman can look forward to spending less time in the shower, and more time turning off lights. The six red brick dormitories located at the top of the Cal Poly campus will compete in February to see which hall can save the most energy in the sixth annual Red Brick Energy Competition.
Last year, the competing dorms saved the school $10,800, Cal Poly Green Campus Program treasurer Brett Edwards said. He said they accomplished this by decreasing water use by 430,000 gallons, and electricity by 41,000 kilowatt hours, which reduced carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 44,000 pounds.

The 5-year-old competition has become a tradition that saves the school thousands of dollars in utility costs while teaching students to practice environmentally friendly habits, said associate director of Residential Life and Education Suzanne Fritz.

“(The competition) teaches students to be aware of how their choices can impact the environment,” Fritz said. “We’ve worked to get students motivated and educated.”

 The program, formed in 2007, is a group of students who promote sustainability and environmental efficiency through campus projects such as the energy-saving competition.

Green Campus will use incentives throughout the competition to spark the students’ interest. For example, the hall that consumes the least amount of energy each week will be rewarded with a pizza party.

From Feb. 6 to March 3, each red brick residence hall’s water and electricity consumption will be measured three times per week. Graphics illustrating each hall’s progress will be posted around the common rooms and hallways, reminding the residents to keep competing.

Trinity Hall Coordinator of Student Development (CSD) Briana Enriquez said more than earning prizes, her residents are driven to earn bragging rights for their dorm.

“We have a little competition with Muir (Hall) because they won last year and defeated us for the first time,” Enriquez said. “My students are pretty much rallied around the fact that they want to win to defeat Muir.”

Edwards, a business administration junior, said he knows the competition is improving attitudes about practicing sustainable habits.

“The negative connotation toward acting sustainably is that just one person cannot make a difference, but in this competition it gives the opportunity for 1,500 students to all act together as one and really make a difference,” Edwards said.

Edwards is proof the energy competition has raised student interest in environmentalism. His passion for the cause began in his freshman year when his friend, a red brick resident, mentioned the competition. Even though Edwards lived in Yosemite Hall, he competed vicariously through his classmate.

“I was always getting on him about turning off the lights in his room and stuff,” Edwards said.

After learning about the Green Campus team, Edwards became an intern for the Green Campus Program.

Now, he is popularly known as Mr. Eco, an “environmental rap superhero.” As Mr. Eco, Edwards uses a cape and catchy lyrics as tools to add a quirky twist to engaging the students. Enriquez said Mr. Eco’s presence makes the competition a little more fun and interesting.

“He adds that entertainment factor,” Enriquez said. “We all have that 15-second attention span, and it helps when you’re being rapped at.”

As Mr. Eco, Edwards has made 10 songs and seven music videos. His songs are parodies of popular songs. For example, his song “The Prince of Fresh Air” is a parody of the theme to the television show, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Mr. Eco’s newest music video for the song “Save So Hard” will feature an appearance by the residents of the residence hall that wins the energy competition.

A new addition to this year’s competition is a winning prize that both Enriquez and Edwards said they are excited about: The Green Campus team will “symbolically” adopt a polar bear through the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and name it after the winning hall.

The adoption is a donation to the World Wildlife Federation, which uses the money to fund research on how climate change affects polar bears’ habitat, or to fund lobbying efforts to pass legislation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, according to the WWF website.

“(The polar bear prize) is going to actual conservation, which is why we’re saving energy,” Edwards said. “You’re actually making a positive impact that’s tangible.”

Even with all these prizes, some halls in the past years have fallen behind early and stopped competing out of discouragement. To prevent this from happening again, Cal Poly entered the  Campus Conservation Nationals, a nationwide competition coordinated by organizations such as the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). This is to ensure all residents stay motivated, and Cal Poly can strive to beat the 170 other competing colleges.

The Green Campus team is delighted to see the competition evolve into what it is today.

Staff adviser and sustainability manager of facility services Dennis Elliot said he has noticed a trend in the students to be more environmentally conscious. Last year’s savings of $10,800 in energy costs is double the amount of savings from the two previous years, which saved more than $5,000 each.

“Compared to the baseline (use of energy) before we started (the competition), we’re finding that students’ behaviors are changing permanently, that they’re using less and less energy per year, even without the competition,” Elliot said.

This trend in decreasing energy use will continue to save the school money on energy costs. Alan Pepe, director of housing and business services, said last year’s savings were put into a “sustainability reserve,” where the student hall council will decide where to use those funds. He anticipates that the savings will pay for new sustainability projects and is excited to see the competition’s effects on the campus.

“I think it’s fabulous,” Pepe said. “It creates a whole new awareness.”

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