Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dorm Room Electricity Use

If I were to ask every Lasell College student living on campus how much electricity they use in their dorm room each day, every one of them would reply that they don't know. They live in a space that is probably under 150 square feet and yet they are unaware of how much electricity they use. I am not going to blame the students but I am going to advocate for change.

College students have never really had to think much about their electricity use. They probably had parents nagging them to turn things off at home. Most likely the motivation for this nagging was to save money and not because the family was concerned about the health of our planet. Students leave home for college and now they have a sense of freedom. They can use as much electricity as they want and there is no one to nag them. They can leave the computer, lights, and television on and not have to worry about a nagging parent. Even though they are living on their own, they still do not see an electricity bill so energy conservation is hardly on their radar.

The fact that students living in dorm rooms do not know their electricity usage is not really their fault. Rather, the problem is at the institutional level and how our buildings are metered. While electricity of entire buildings is metered, individual rooms are not. The best we can do is estimate the electricity use per student. As electricity costs continue to rise, there is little the college can do to make individual students accountable. Increasingly, colleges are hosting contests to get building usage down, but still, the individual is not accountable.

I feel we are doing our students, and our environment, an injustice if we allow them to use electricity at will for four years. The role of colleges extends far beyond just teaching students compartmentalized facts in the classroom. We are committed to promoting social responsibility. I believe college is the time when students need to learn about their energy usage. While students are living on campus, we have the opportunity to help students develop an energy conservation ethic that they will carry with them when they leave our community for another.

What can we do? Metering every dorm room would be great, but that is not going to happen. I plan to start promoting electricity use awareness by purchasing a large set of P4400 KillAWatt meters. As part of our connected learning, students in the Lasell Environmental Studies program will employ these meters in dorm rooms across campus. While we can't monitor every room, a large random sample will certainly start conversation. We will help students measure their dorm room electricity use and calculate the amount of carbon dioxide emitted to generate that quantity of energy. By engaging a handful of students, they will become the best marketing tool possible. They will start to make comments to the students living next to them about their electricity use and, hopefully, awareness will spread.

I recognize this is just one small step but we need to start somewhere. The most important thing we can do is not let students leave Lasell without an understanding of the environmental consequences of their energy use.

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