Turn it off: WCU comes out on top in national energy reduction competition

out frWhen the Campus Conservation Nationals Competition wrapped up this spring, Western Carolina University came out near the top of a nationwide field of 109 schools. Schools didn’t receive specific rankings, but WCU made the top 10 with a 13.7 percent reduction in its residential halls’ energy use over the three-week competition period. 

“A common adage in the world of energy conservation is: Human energy change is low-hanging fruit, but the fruit grows back, so as we get new students in, we have to continue to improve our programs,” said Lauren Bishop, chief sustainability officer at WCU. 

Leveraging some healthy competition to get students excited about energy reduction is one way to do that. The university rallied its students with events such as the Be Ready for the Battle kickoff and the Whee do it in the Dark dance party, featuring white-T-shirt-clad attendees with glowsticks in tow. 

Student Government Association funding provided T-shirts, sunglasses and other swag to give away at conservation-focused events, encouraging students to unplug unused electronics, take shorter showers and turn off the lights. 

“I was thinking that 9 to 10 percent reduction would be fantastic because we didn’t do too well last year,” Bishop said. “Last year we had a 0.2 percent reduction and [Appalachian State University] had a 3.1 percent reduction, so it wasn’t good at all.”

This year, more than 400 students made an online energy commitment in which they promised to take specific actions to save energy, and WCU again went head-to-head with App State in the annual Battle of the Plug competition to see who could pull off the biggest reduction. App State came in first on that front, recording a 17.5 percent energy savings reduction, but both schools did well in both numbers and buy-in.

“We had a lot of commitment which was really cool,” Bishop said. “We had over twice as many commitments as App State. That doesn’t mean we won, but we got the word out really well.”

WCU saved $4,454 in energy costs over the three-week period, totaling 67,478 kilowatt-hours and 57,768 pounds of greenhouse gasses. With the event over, so too are the rallies and events urging students to pull their weight, but Bishop believes the impact will live on — at least for this set of students. The challenge is to keep the awareness building so that each new crop of students will leave the university with an energy ethic to take with them. 

“That’s the ultimate goal is to produce critical thinkers and people who will be good productive contributors to society,” Bishop said, “and sustainability is part of that.”  



By the numbers

• 109 schools, including 265,000 staff and students, involved in the competition

• 11 to 24 percent energy reduction among the top 10 finishers

• 13.7 percent reduction at Western Carolina University 

• 35.2 percent reduction at Reynolds Hall, WCU’s top-reducing building

• $4,454, 67,478 kilowatt-hours and 57,768 pounds of greenhouse gasses saved

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