Story posted February 14, 2012
The second annual Polar Bear Energy Challenge kicked off this week at Bowdoin, meaning that buildings throughout campus might be a little less bright and many gadgets will be left unplugged as employees and students take on the challenge of reducing their energy usage. The 25-day contest is part of Bowdoin's effort to be carbon neutral by 2020.
Student dorms have been competing in similar energy challenges for a decade, according to Keisha Payson, coordinator for a sustainable Bowdoin. Last year, staff and faculty jumped into the ring in a separate challenge for the first time. This year’s challenge now includes everyone: administrative, academic and student buildings. Winners will be announced in several categories: administrative/academic building, first-year dorm, college house and upper-class dorm.
Cindy Bessmer, assistant director of human resource services and an office EcoRep, entered her office building, McLellan, into the competition again despite it posing some challenges. It contains several departments, including the communications office, and also has studios in its upper floors that are often occupied by students during the night. But Bessmer has put up posters urging McLellan occupants to try to beat the building's 2011 performance. “I think if everyone does their own little part, it can help,” she said, standing in her darkened office. She won't turn on her office lights again until March 8, when the competition ends.
To save energy, Bessmer recommends unplugging microwaves and toasters over breaks, using natural light rather than lamps or overhead lighting, and shutting down computers at night. For more conservation tips, go here.
"The point of this competition is to make things start to be a little bit more of a habit," Payson said, such as turning off lights at night, latching storm windows shut and calling in work orders to fix obvious energy drains, such as malfunctioning sensor lights. She also wants to encourage building occupants to start talking more about ways to improve their building's efficiency.
The second annual Polar Bear Challenge will award a free home-energy audit to one employee in the victorious administrative/academic building. Their name will be drawn from a hat. The top three student dorms will receive banners for their buildings announcing them as Polar Bear Energy champions. Plus a portion of the money that's saved on electricity bills, up to $500, will be used to green this year’s Ivies Weekend, the annual springtime concert.
The total number of buildings competing this year is 38, including 18 academic/administrative buildings — a jump from last year’s 11 academic/administrative competitors, Payson says. She chalks up the increase to more people being comfortable with the competition and its requirements this year.
Because every building is unique, Payson will compare each building’s electricity usage from Feb. 13 to March 8 to its usage last year during the same time period. Contestants can keep track of their progress on the college’s energy dashboard.
In 2011, Banister Hall won the Polar Bear Energy Challenge by narrowly edging out Cram Alumni House. Banister, which houses the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good, the American Musicological Society and other offices, reduced its energy use 31%. Cram cut down its electricity use by 30.8%.