For three weeks before Thanksgiving, students in the Quad did less laundry, turned off lights and unplugged appliances to save electricity.

Their efforts paid off yesterday when organizers of the first fall Power Down Challenge announced that residents of Fisher Hassenfeld, Ware and Riepe college houses reduced their electricity consumption by 20.42 percent collectively.

“It was really exciting to see how receptive students are to sustainability issues here at Penn,” College freshman and Ware Eco-Reps house leader Sara Allan said.

The competition between college houses, which ran from Nov. 1 to 20, was organized by Facilities and Real Estate Services and the Green Campus Partnership. The competition espouses the goal of the Climate Action Plan, launched by Penn President Amy Gutmann in 2009.

“This is the one aspect of the sustainability program that everybody can participate in,” Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Dan Garofalo said. “It’s an opportunity for everybody to learn from each other and share conservation strategies.”

Student Eco-Reps in each house helped spread the word on the competition and advise students on how to save electricity.

The Eco-Reps program “is designed to be a free flowing conversation,” Julian Goresko, Sustainability Student Outreach Associate for the Green Campus Partnership said. “We give students a strong educational foundation and then challenge them to come up with their own ideas.”

These included an ice cream study break in the Quad, which was metered as one house in the Challenge, where Allan and other Eco-Reps had students sign a pledge to conserve electricity.

Eco-Reps in Riepe distributed candy on Halloween with electricity-saving tips.

“We knew people were enthusiastic but we weren’t expecting as big of reduction as we saw,” College sophomore and Riepe Eco-Reps house leader Shannon Macika said.

A celebration will be held at McClelland Hall for Quad residents on Sunday. Students who attend will be able to participate in a raffle for a bicycle and other prizes.

Eco-Reps at Rodin set up a table in the lobby and encouraged students to write down how they would save electricity. They also handed out magnets intended to remind students to conserve.

Engineering sophomore and Rodin Eco-Reps communications manger Sabrina Andrews was pleased with the results, even though her college house, along with Harnwell, did not reduce its consumption from the initial baseline during the competition.

“We think people learned different ways to conserve energy and that’s really what we wanted to do with the Power Down Challenge,” Andrews said.

Organizers also hope that the competition will permanently lower students’ electricity consumption.

“We’re looking ahead to see if we can get this behavior change to stick,” Director of Maintenance and Operations Ken Ogawa said.

Ogawa will continue to monitor how much electricity is consumed in college houses to see if the Power Down with yield long term results.

Despite the focus on a long-term behavior change, the competition coordinators were very excited about the total 61,090 kilowatts of energy conserved.

“[The Quad’s] 20 percent reduction blew us out of the water, and any reduction over ten percent is astounding,” Goresko said.

Nine of the 12 college houses reached the competition’s goal of reducing electricity intake by at least five percent.

The event coordinators published weekly results to help students understand how much electricity they saved.

At the end of the competition, the Power Down results were presented alongside comparisons to help students better understand their achievements.

The total electricity saved, for example, is equivalent to planting 1,080 trees or not consuming 98 barrels of oil.

“It’s essential to put the results in terms people understand,” Garofalo said.

Goresko was confident that the challenge saved money, even when taking into account the cost of materials. The Green Campus Partnership tried to make the program itself as sustainable as possible by putting posters on screens when available and using signs that can be reused next year.

Coordinators were looking to take advantage of students’ natural competitive spirits when organizing the competition.

“Whether you’re in an office, lab or college house, peer action has a huge social influence on personal behavior,” Goresko said. “We were looking to leverage this and add a fun and competitive element.”

“It’s remarkable how enthusiastic people get about winning,” Garofalo added.

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