Now in its eighth year, Students for Ecological and Environmental Development's annual Green Cup passed its halfway mark Thursday. Green Cup, which lasts the entire month of February, is a competition among residential buildings and Greek houses to see who can most reduce their electricity and water usage the most. On Feb. 21, SEED will be introducing "Earth Hour," an hour-long electronics-free dance party. North by Northwestern spoke with Weinberg sophomore Madeline Miller, a SEED executive board member and chair of Green Cup 2013, to ask how SEED hopes to use Green Cup to change the way students view environmental issues.
When did Green Cup first come about? How has it changed since then?
The first Green Cup, I think, was seven years ago…members of SEED wanted a campus-wide opportunity to address environmental issues, and a group of students approached facilities management to see if they could put on a competition to reduce water and electricity, and Green Cup was born. It’s been mostly consistent since then in the way it’s set up, but this year we’re putting a lot more emphasis on events to try to get people educated and in touch with all the issues at hand. We’re hoping people will find out not only why SEED cares about [energy use], but why everyone should care. That’s why we did things like showing Last Call at the Oasis. We really want to educate people so that the point of the month isn’t “Hey, take a shorter shower,” but more like “Hey, there’s a global crisis going on, we all need to respond to it.” We’re trying to get people who normally wouldn’t attend these events to come and learn how to apply issues to their everyday life, even if they’re not the most environmental person.
Does SEED have an idea of roughly how much energy Green Cup saves every year?
In past years, the teams that ended up winning have reduced their water and electricity usage by around 30 percent. That’s a pretty significant drop, and it’s just from the little things people can do every day, like turn off the lights and take shorter showers. If everyone did that, it would make a huge difference, considering that Northwestern is one of top users of energy in the entire Chicago area — I mean, we have our own power plant. We’re a huge energy suck, and there are so many students living on this campus that it does make a difference in how much energy the University uses overall. But in the end, the actual number of gallons or kilowatts saved during Green Cup isn’t SEED’s overall goal. We’re more focused on having students engage in environmental issues when they otherwise wouldn’t have, and having them think about conservation as a serious issue.
Some teams have been known to intentionally increase their energy usage in the weeks before Green Cup to sharpen their drop in energy once the competition starts. Has SEED put changes in place to make sure people don’t do that this year?
We have heard hearsay about people doing that…so this year we changed the way we calculate the baseline for water and electricity. We take measurements of the entire previous year, as well as data from the two weeks prior to the beginning of February. We would just use the average totals, but we have to recognize that Green Cup is really a measure of individuals and how much energy they’re using, and the individuals in each residence change every year, so we do have to incorporate data from the time right before the competition. But we compare those numbers to their average levels, so if there’s a huge jump between one value and the other and it’s not explained, we can gauge whether something fishy is going on. We actually do a lot of investigating, and facilities management helps us see if anything is up, and why the numbers come out the way they do.
Tell us about Earth Hour this Thursday. Do you really think people will be able to go a full hour without electronics?
The event is based off of the global Earth Hour that happens every year — and there are cool videos of this — where major cities will shut off large portions of lights their lights and throw a big party. The point is that people come together in one space and leave the lights and electricity off wherever they came from. But the actual Earth Hour takes place over spring break, so we wanted to do our own little Earth Hour. So on Thursday night, Allison and Sargent dining halls will be converted into big dance parties so that people can turn off their electronics and lights, and people will have something to do while the lights are off. It’s a cool way to get everyone to get people to turn everything off, and the motivation is a cool dance party.
In a few weeks Green Cup will be over, and everyone will go back to the same level of energy consumption as before. What do you hope is accomplished by then, so that energy is conserved in the long term?
Our hope is that since Green Cup lasts an entire month, and if people are consistently thinking about using less energy during that month, it’ll become a habit. Like that just the little motion of turning off the lights when you leave a room will be an ingrained habit. So our goal is to subversively put in these habits. In general, we hope people will come out of Green Cup a little more educated about issues of sustainability, and with more of a connection between these issues and their own lives. Northwestern students tend to live in their own world little world, but we hope to open people’s eyes to the fact that we’re facing a global energy crisis.