Environmental programs and competitions are the flavor of the season. Three initiatives exhibit the dedication of the entirety of the community — including the university, students living in local apartments and the Town of Blacksburg — to encourage environmental awareness and influence more sustainable behavior.

On Virginia Tech’s end, the Office of Energy and Sustainability recently hosted “Turn Down 4 Watt,” an energy competition among the campus’s residence halls. The office’s three-week-long competition measured the average decrease in the overall use of water and electricity in campus dorms and Oak Lane houses.

Some students are not only engaging in sustainable behaviors on campus but also working to improve recycling conditions in Blacksburg. Two Virginia Tech students created a petition for residents to express their concerns over the inaccessibility to recycling bins for Blacksburg apartments.

Recycling accessibility is not the only issue that regularly affects Blacksburg residents. Following the success of last year’s Solarize program, which encouraged community members to consider utilizing solar panels, Blacksburg’s Weatherize initiative wants citizens to pay attention to energy usage at home. The town is offering incentives to decrease energy consumption and is offering energy audits on their homes.

For students who do not have to worry as much about electricity and water bills, the university still wants to instill an understanding on how to decrease use and form more sustainable habits.

The first- and second-place winners for Virginia Tech’s second annual “Turn Down 4 Watt” competition, Hillcrest and New Hall East, had a difference in their average decreased consumption rates of only .56 percent.

Reducing the amount of wasteful energy and water spent in the average college dorm is a difficult feat, especially with so many factors to focus on. When the Office of Energy and Sustainability kicked off this event, it realized that not everyone would know what it meant to “Turn Down 4 Watt” or even what steps they could take to reduce their use.

“We’re giving them the tools and info that they need to live a lower-impact life once they move off of campus,” said Emily Schosid, Virginia Tech’s campus sustainability planner, who spearheaded the campaign. “Turn Down 4 Watt” is the epitome of Schosid’s work on campus: to change the behaviors of Virginia Tech students and faculty to create a more environmentally friendly campus.

“For a lot of students, this is their first time away from their parents … this is the time for them to create those behaviors and habits for the rest of their lives. We want to make sure that those habits are good ones,” Schosid said.

Her office first organized “Turn Down 4 Watt” in the fall of 2014, creating a four-week competition that saw on-campus residence halls turning off the lights, the tap and thinking renewable.

As an added incentive to convince their halls to adopt sustainable behaviors this year, the hall that finished in first place would be given $1,000 to spend however they pleased, with second and third place winning the $500 and $250 prizes.

There was a separate prize pool for the houses on Oak Lane, a community with 19 houses, separate from the main campus. Kappa Kappa Gamma won that first place prize of $500 and Pi Beta Phi received the $250 second prize. The money given to fraternities and sororities will automatically go toward their chosen philanthropies.

This year, the time for “Turn Down 4 Watt” was reduced from four to three weeks, but the purpose was the same.

“There’s room for improvement everywhere … one of the easiest things we can improve upon is educating people on recycling practices,” said Smita Sharma, a sustainable biomaterials senior at Virginia Tech and intern in the Office of Energy and Sustainability. “Just realizing it’s for the better — we’re not trying to make your life difficult.”

Sharma said that “Turn Down 4 Watt” is not only a friendly competition but also an opportunity for people to adopt sustainable behaviors to take with them after they graduate.

As leader of the energy team, Sharma and her team “lay out behavior changes that we want to see on campus … what will make the biggest impact.”

The first week of the “Turn Down 4 Watt” competition, called VT Unplugged, encouraged students to watch how often they were using electricity. The second week, Turn Off the Tap, promoted taking shorter showers and making larger laundry loads. The third week, Reduce the Use, moved those smaller actions onto the larger scale, such as how community spaces in the dorms can cut down on energy and water usage.

Simple things like turning off the sink when brushing one’s teeth and turning off the light when leaving a room are behaviors that Schosid said people should already be doing but unfortunately are not. 

She admitted that smaller halls had the upper hand in the competition.

“At the same time, those small halls, they’re not using as much energy to begin with,” Schosid said.

Her office decides the average decreased consumption through statistics from VT Electric, which measures the number of kilowatts and amount of water used throughout the week in a certain hall. Before the event, her office took three weeks of “baseline measurements” in order to get a standard from which to gauge the decrease of water and electricity use.

At first, New Hall East had won “Turn Down 4 Watt,” but Schosid’s office issued a new rule this semester to give extra points. Their Green Room Certification was a way for students to answer questions, like if they use reusable bags when grocery shopping, to become certified.

If 10 percent or more of students living in a certain residence hall received a Green Room Certification, that hall would receive two extra percentage points on its combined average reduction. This bumped Hillcrest up from 23.18 percent to 25.18 percent, since 72 people in their dorm, about 60 percent, were certified.

This was a new addition for the 2015 competition. Schosid is asking students for tips on how to improve the competition for next year.

“I think in the future, it’ll be a standard thing that people will be excited for and know about,” Sharma said. “Our generation knows it’s the way to go.”

The Office of Energy and Sustainability sent out a survey to find out which energy and sustainability concerns should be further addressed now that the competition is fresh in students’ mind.

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