Energy Challenge Shows Sustain IU's Strength

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(Image courtesy of Visit Bloomington) (Image courtesy of Visit Bloomington)

Indiana University says its Bloomington campus-wide Energy Challenge made a big difference in 2018, to the tune of 566 metric tons of carbon removed from the university’s footprint. The competition - calling on residence halls, academic and athletic facilities to make moves to save water and electricity - is part of a larger effort to make the school known for cream and crimson a little more green.

The 2018 Energy Challenge ran from October 8-November 2, with the campus’ Cyberinfrastructure Building taking the top prize. In all, Sustain IU says the four-week event generated savings of 877,416 gallons of water and 760,314 kilowatt-hours of energy.

The annual challenge is nearly 10 years old, but it continues to grow in size and scope. IU Sustainability Specialist Ashlee Wilson Fujawa says this year’s competition focused on savings as well as engagement.

"New this year we asked people to kind of commit personally with a sustainability pledge," says Fujawa. "We asked people, what are some small measure changes you could see yourself doing outside of this pledge?"

To meet that goal, Sustain IU hosted several outreach events for students and staff to talk about sustainable decision-making. The group says it gathered more than 100 signatures for the online Sustainability Pledge, in hopes students and others would take the greener habits they learned beyond the Energy Challenge.

"Even just initiatives of turning down your computer and just kind of powering off when you have an opportunity, and being mindful of when things are plugged in, that you kind of have those 'vampire power' opportunities," says Fujawa. "That makes up for about 10 percent of usage, so if people are unplugging things when they don't necessarily need them, that’s just kind of building that muscle of, 'you're right, I don't necessarily need this plugged in all the time,' and you're able to save where you can."

She says, for the first time, the office also worked with IUPUI’s interns to assist with the 2018 challenge. Fujawa says Sustain IU interns worked with IUPUI to put together a challenge on that campus as well. The idea, Fujawa adds, is to grow sustainability efforts and allow for knowledge transfer among campuses.

The university launched the Office of Sustainability in 2008 in hopes of bringing together the efforts from several groups working on various environmental and sustainability initiatives. It rebranded to Sustain IU in 2018 in hopes of creating a culture of sustainability at IU from academics to operations.

The effort is also written into Indiana University’s current Bicentennial Strategic Plan, which calls for “sustainability, stewardship and accountability for the natural, human and economic resources and relationships entrusted to IU.”

The office, however, hopes the benefits of its efforts grow beyond the walls of its campuses. Sustain IU has launched a program at IU Bloomington, IUPUI and IU South Bend to identify students interested in sustainability and encouraging them to live and work in the state by providing externship opportunities with Indiana nonprofits, corporations and municipalities.

"So we’re not only building a pipeline of talent," says Fujawa, "we’re showing students that you don’t need to go to a coast to do that, you can really invest in your state right here."

Whether they lead to full-time careers or just a few habit changes in everyday life, Sustain IU is hoping its efforts are building “ambassadors of sustainability” that will take those practices throughout Indiana and beyond.

Fujawa says "small, mindful changes" from students and staff can make a big difference.
Fujawa says prospective students like to see a green commitment from universities they are considering.
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