Environment & Science

It's dorm vs. dorm in UCLA's 'Do it in the Dark' energy conservation contest


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As college hoop teams battle toward national championships, the entire UCLA campus is wrapping up another kind of competition among residence halls.The campus-wide “Do it in the Dark” contest isn't about what you might think. Unless you think it's about conserving energy.

Four hundred and fifty students live in UCLA’s Delta Terrace. More than half have taken a four-part pledge to "turn off the lights when not in use. Unplug things when not in use or use a power strip. Use heating and air conditioning responsibly. And reduce our reliance on warm water," says junior Elizabeth Oh.
Oh says that to succeed, the contest had to be social. A hike in Temescal Canyon was a good bonding experience for Delta Terrace students, who are all transfers. The hike also got them out of their rooms and away from light switches. Oh notes that stereos and TVs are insidious electricity suckers, even when they’re not in use. Which is why she and her team distributed reminders about those suckers: "There’s something called ‘vampire drawing’ and to allude to that theme we passed out vampire teeth," she says. (Of course, they also recommended power strips when they knocked door to door, to cut vampire drawing off.)

Oh’s band of transfers are second-place underdogs. But she says she smells a comeback. "Competition kind of does drive success, sadly. As UCLA students we are kind of competitive perfectionists. Some of us, at least," she concludes, and includes herself.
Delta Terrace is gunning for last year’s champion and this year’s leaders: the 900 occupants of Hedrick Summit. Student Celebration Ferguson — Cell, for short — says Hedrick is also using social pressure. She and her Green Team cohorts are snapping pictures of students who sign up to save energy with their floor numbers next to them. Nine floors are competing within the residence hall.

"We have hundreds of pictures up on that wall now," Ferguson says. "I think it helps people feel more excited. I think helps people feel more committed. I love that board," she finishes, laughing a little.
Hedrick Summit leads Delta Terrace in one half of the contest, with a higher percentage of residents pledging lower consumption. But until an advisor reads the last residence hall’s energy meter, nobody knows who will win the second half: actual cost savings. Ferguson’s cocky about her building’s odds.

One thing Ferguson and Oh agree on: swapping out old light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones doesn't light up students' imaginations. "We got a large supply of energy-saving curly lightbulbs," Ferguson says. "Any resident that has an old fashioned lightbulb can come and swap out for an energy saving one. And people are just not as interested in going to the trouble of going down the hall. But at least we tried."
Top prize is $500 toward a party for the winning residence hall as of the end of the day Wednesday. For that honor, Ferguson and Oh agree on something else: There is no “try.” There is only “do.”

UCLA’s Office of Residential Life announces the winner later this week.