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St. Olaf students show that using less means more

By Trent Chaffee '09
May 16, 2007

During February students at St. Olaf College and around the state made a concerted effort to reduce energy consumption as part of the Minnesota College Energy Wars. When the numbers were measured against the amount of consumption per person during the previous year, St. Olaf came out on top in the electricity and combined energy categories, and took second place in heat.

"We truly are on our way to being a college that conserves and puts our environmental -- and cost saving -- ideals to action," says St. Olaf student Mary Sotos '07, an environmental studies major.

The competition was divided into three categories: electricity, heat and combined energy (electricity plus heat). Electricity was cut by 17.21 percent on campus during the competition. The second highest finisher was Gustavus Adolphus College with 8.9 percent. Even though February was a cold month in Minnesota, St. Olaf had the second lowest heat increase at 9.52 percent, behind the College of St. Catherine at 2.9 percent.

Certain St. Olaf residence halls stood out in electricity reduction. Kildahl Hall, a first-year hall, cut consumption by 56.9 percent. Their significant drop in usage was made possible by their dedicated junior counselors. "One of the things a lot of JCs made a habit of was while doing rounds, we would make sure only half the lights were on in the hall," says Kildahl junior counselor Frieda von Qualen '08. "Not only did this save electricity, but it also reminded people of quiet hours."

Ellingson Hall, also for first-year students, dropped 22.7 percent. Rand Hall's energy consumption decreased 12.7 percent while Hoyme Hall, another first-year hall, consumed 12.3 percent less than last year.

'Sense of unity'
"These reductions show me that the students at St. Olaf care about conserving, and that the kind of community atmosphere in first-year residence halls probably contributes to that sense of unity -- that we're all doing this together for the school and for the world," says Sotos.

Sotos, along with Aidan Currie '08, Amber Collett '07, Willie Richards '07, Allison Madison '07 and Kate Handler '08 were co-leaders this year of the six-year-old St. Olaf Environmental Coalition. The group spent months planning for the energy competition.

This was the first year that Energy Month and the Minnesota Energy College Wars have gone statewide. Plans for the competition started in October, and most of the work was completed in January. Phone conferences with leaders from several college environmental organizations across the state were conducted to share ideas and set standards for the competition.

St. Olaf Environmental Coalition members created posters, tabled outside the cafeteria, sent e-mails to faculty and administrators and worked tirelessly to spread the word about energy conservation. The FARME Honor House, for which Sotos serves as president, even purchased drying racks and placed one in every St. Olaf residence hall.

Sotos and the Environmental Coalition hope that Energy Month helps students develop habits to conserve. "If we can reduce our electricity by that much during February," she say, "then we can certainly keep turning off lights, air-drying laundry, turning off computers, unplugging electronic equipment, or switching off the power strip and keep the heat down during these spring months."

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or