Energy competition educates, inspires good habits
Student Anna Beach '22 uses internship opportunity to launch practical 'local project in response to a global issue'
A fun and educational energy competition between two Saint Michael’s College first-year residence halls, organized by junior environmental studies/political science double major Anna Beach ’22, recently kicked into high gear as a way to build better habits and awareness around energy consumption on campus and in the wider world.
“I was fascinated by the opportunity to work on a local project in response to a global issue, and I was eager to delve into the grit of outreach work and behavioral change,” said Beach, a Barre, VT, native who came to love and attend Saint Michael’s after visiting her also environmentally active older sister, Abbey Beach ’21, in recent years.
“I was fascinated by all the possibilities nested within the Environmental Studies Major,” said Anna Beach, who recalls how as a high school senior, she shadowed a class in that major taught then by Kristyn Achilich ’05, now director of the dynamically emerging Center for the Environment, which officially launched in 2019.
That early visit also gave Anna Beach “a glimpse of the strong sense of community and a sense of the class atmosphere, which I found to be engaging and fun,” she said. “At that point I knew St. Mike’s was for me, and now, three years later, Kristyn and I are working together closely on this project and learning new things all the time.”
Beach said this latest energy competition that she is stewarding between Lyons and Alumni Halls on the main first-year quad is the final project for her internship with the new Continuous Energy Improvement (CEI) program through the Center for the Environment.
“Many of these competitions happen on college campuses throughout the country and can be enormously successful,” she said. “Because our focus is with energy conservation and sustaining and building energy awareness over time, we decided to engage the first-year students, who are housed primarily in Lyons and Alumni Halls. Then, in subsequent years, we can track the progress of the class of 2024 while bringing the following classes along for the ride.”
Key for her efforts has been the support of the College’s residential life team, including resident assistants and directors in the competing halls, along with community partners Efficiency Vermont (EVT) working directly with the College’s Facilities team. Achilich said the continuous Energy Improvement Initiative is several years old, and originated at EVT as an institutional program. “Under their guidance and in collaboration with our Energy Consultant, Tim Perrin, we have upgraded fixtures, bulbs, control panels and processes around campus. Now, as a formal internship with the Center, we are able to involve students and address the necessary personal, social and institutional behaviors that make lasting change,” she says.
Beach said she also has had help from the Sustainable Campus Team, the campus environmental group GreenUp and the student EcoReps alongside Student Life and Facilities.
Beach said she has been working on organizing the project since mid-summer. Her role in her internship is “to connect the campus community to the essential work our Facilities team has been doing in conjunction with Efficiency Vermont and Temperature Controls of Vermont.”
“By bringing attention to this progress such as optimizing controls and putting unoccupied buildings into a ‘napping’ state over the summer, and by translating energy trends for a general audience, we’re empowering people to build an awareness around their energy consumption,” she said.
Achilich said the goal with all projects and programs under the Center for the Environment umbrella is to create positions of student leadership in key areas of environmental stewardship.
“This allows us to tackle the education workforce development continuum, linking students’ intellectual pursuits with industry specific skills, knowledge and experiences as well as strong career readiness attitudes, work ethic and skills any employer would expect of educated young people,” she said, adding that Beach “is an exemplar of this work.”
The present initiative has some related campus history, such as when a previous campus sustainability coordinator organized an energy competition several years ago in the Townhouses to educate older students about paying their own energy bills by metering and delivering make-believe educational “bills” based on real metered readings. This year’s different focus on first-year student instead of juniors and seniors was to start strong energy habits earlier and continue energy education in the Class of 2024’s second-year housing, “so that by the time they are seniors, all students might leave college with tangible solutions to managing their living scenarios in life after college, a small foot in environmental stewardship in their communities and hopefully a decreased energy bill for the College,” Achilich said.
Achilich and Beach said the first week of competition provided interesting results as they tracked electricity consumption of each building while tallying points for participation. Points are earned by signing a community commitment in one’s hall, reporting energy-saving behaviors and playing a trivia game in the respective halls. So far, Lyons Hall has been consistently using less energy than Alumni, which the contest organizers say correlates well with those students’ reported energy-saving behaviors such as taking stairs instead of the elevator or combining wash loads in one dryer. The winner of the competition, quite simply, will be the hall that gains the most points, in the building that saves the most electricity, with awards such as pizza made with fresh, organic veggies from the Farm at SMC with the help of Sodexo, in keeping with the sustainability mindset.
“This is not a quick fix to climate change by any means, “ said Achilich, “but we aim to inspire the campus community to address the issue of over-consumption and to promote an environmental consciousness that will help in the long-term.”
She sees it as important for the Center as a whole since “energy was missing from our portfolio,” even with all the other food, waste, management, sustainability and education initiatives going on through the Center up to now.
Said Beach of her internship experience and the practical aspects of the contest, “I had learned previously, of course, about the connection between the combustion of fossil fuels for energy and climate change, but that concept still resided in the theoretical realm for me.”