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Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Students compete to conserve energy and water in 'IU Energy Challenge'

March 19, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Students at Indiana University Bloomington will participate in the campus's first "IU Energy Challenge," a dormitory energy and water conservation competition. Combining student residential life, graduate research and campus operations, the competition integrates numerous aspects of campus life to promote greater environmental sustainability on campus.

The project is a collaborative effort between the Residence Halls Association, the School of Informatics, IU Physical Plant Utilities and the IU Sustainability Task Force. The competition will take place March 20 through April 17 and will culminate in an award celebration during Earth Week.

Central Heating Plant

IU Bloomington Central Heating Plant

The four-week competition will encourage students living in 10 IU Bloomington dormitories to compete to reduce their energy and water consumption against a baseline of their dorm's average per capita electricity and water consumption over the past three years.

The dormitory that shows the greatest combined reduction in energy and water use will receive a grand prize of $500 plus a celebratory cookout the weekend before final exams. The second-place dorm will receive $250, with support provided by the Residence Halls Association, IU Physical Plant and the Office of the Provost. Participating dorms include: Eigenmann, Briscoe, McNutt, Foster, Ashton, Willkie, Forest, Read, Teter and Wright.

"This broad-based, student-led initiative is a superb example of what a concentrated focus on sustainability can bring to the IU Bloomington campus," said Michael Hamburger, associate dean of the faculties and co-chair of the Sustainability Task Force. "In this single initiative we see collaboration between graduate student research, operational efforts of IU Physical Plant and student residential life. The initiative has the potential both to bring greater awareness of individuals' impact on the environment and to save the campus thousands of dollars in operating costs -- which in principle can be folded back into future energy-conservation measures."

Karen Hanson, Indiana University provost and executive vice president, said, "This is an exciting opportunity for education as well as conservation. Through the IU Energy Challenge, our participating residential centers will become learning laboratories for sustainability. The entire campus community will become more aware of the costs associated with energy use habits, and the results of the challenge will inform operational planning at Indiana University. This student-led effort is a great way to highlight the major issues of energy use and environmental impact that confront all of us."

David Roedl, a graduate student in the School of Informatics who studies the connection between human-computer interaction and sustainability, initially thought of the competition in connection with his master's thesis.

"I initially brought the idea of the competition to the Utility Information Group (UIG) to see if it would be technically feasible to run a Web-enabled conservation competition here at IU," Roedl said. "I was really surprised by the level of enthusiasm the UIG staff showed for the competition, and the support they and the Physical Plant Technical Support Team have been willing to provide throughout."

Roedl added: "One of the big challenges in reducing our environmental footprint is that energy use is often invisible and taken for granted. Through this competition and the accompanying Web site, we hope to make our resource consumption and its consequences more visible and meaningful to the IU Bloomington community."

Last month Roedl submitted the design for the IU Energy Challenge Web site ( to Microsoft's Imagine Cup Interface Design Competition. He recently learned his design was one of 30 to pass through to the second round.

Mark Menefee, assistant director of utilities at Indiana University Bloomington, said: "We were excited when David approached us about the competition. The competition leverages data our Utility Information Group already collects and is directly in line with our current efforts to both improve metering on campus and raise people's awareness of their energy and water consumption. I think there's a great potential here, and I'd like to see this become a yearly event."

According to Kelly Breeze, RHA director of environmental affairs and co-coordinator of the competition, "a project like this harnesses the inertia of the nearly 10,000 students who live in the dorms to drive positive environmental change at both the local and global level. The competition and the Web site will help enhance the sense of community students who live on campus develop."

Other universities across the country -- including Harvard, Oberlin and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) -- have held similar conservation competitions in residence halls and realized significant reductions in energy and water use. For example, the top performing dorms in UNH's month-long "Energy Waste Watch Challenge" reduced their energy use by 27 percent and water use by 35 percent. UNH reported that the competition saved an estimated $45,000 in avoided energy and water costs, as well as greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to taking 25 passenger cars off the road for one year.

The project is being supported by the campus's Task Force on Campus Sustainability, whose Campus Sustainability Report was released earlier this semester. More information about the contest, emerging results and tips on how to conserve energy and water can be found at More information about the Indiana University sustainability initiative can be found at