Electricity production is one of the most environmentally and economically expensive costs of modern society. With this in mind, I propose a competition between the St. Mary’s College residence halls that is intended to reward people for reducing their electrical consumption. What follows is my description of how such a competition could function and why it might be a good idea.
At the end of every fall semester, the college would subtract the amount of money each residence hall spends on electricity from the amount that it spent over the course of the spring semester. The total difference would go into a pot and be used to purchase amenities for the hall that showed the greatest total reduction.
For example, imagine that over the course of the fall semester, each residence hall reduced its electrical consumption by $100. The only exception is Caroline hall, which reduced its consumption by $150. In this case, Caroline hall won and got to spend the total savings, $150 plus $100 for every other participating hall, on new furniture for its common room. This competition would be concluded in the winter so that the winning hall gets to enjoy its spoils for the duration of the spring semester. I imagine that the competition would not be held again during the spring semester because residents would be moving out come summer and, thus, have no real incentive to cut down on their electrical consumption.
There are many things to like about this program. First, it would cost the college nothing in terms of additional costs as it simply reallocates funds from the utilities budget to the maintenance and residence life budgets. In the best case scenario, the school could shrink its carbon footprint significantly and, in the process, provide extra amenities for one residence hall every year. The only monetary cost I can really imagine the college incurring would perhaps be that of setting up a small poster and forum based campaign to educate students on effective electricity saving methods. However, I bet the college could avoid even this small cost simply by passing the task onto an interested student-run club. Otherwise, the costs of this program would be limited to the man-hour and brainpower costs of managing it.
There are a few administrative decisions that I, frankly, am not informed enough to make at this point. Namely, how should the college calculate its savings? I imagine that it could subtract from each fall semester successively, but that would cause the winnings to dwindle each year until they were virtually non-existent. Another option might be to subtract from the spring semester, but that number could be skewed because of differences in climate control costs. Plus, I can easily picture some devious students intentionally increasing their consumption in the spring in order to increase their potential winnings in the fall. Similarly, perhaps this competition would be fairer if it was determined by per student consumption rather than total, due to the varying size and population of each residence. Additionally, the college would have to carefully select what prizes were made available. It might be a little bit counterproductive to purchase an energy guzzling entertainment system as a reward for low energy usage. These are all questions that I do not have the answers to at this juncture.
In any case, my favorite part about this program is that it would be completely optional. It is my hope that we could avoid the controversy that flooded forth from Meatless Mondays simply because there is no cost, real or imagined, to not participating. Residents who wish to continue taking long showers and ignoring environmental issues could continue to do so unmolested. However, my hope is that the students’ greed and competitiveness will trump their apathy and laziness.
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