Some South Green residents got a head start on Valentine's Day last Thursday, indulging in a candlelight dinner at Nelson Dining Hall three days before the traditional holiday. But the soft lighting had nothing to do with romance. Rather, the darkness was intended to illuminate the importance of energy conservation.
The evening marked the first of four conservation dinners, which will take place at campus dining halls throughout the next month. Hosted by the EcoReps and the Office of Sustainability, the event was created to fuel the university's two on-going green competitions, Residence Challenge and RecycleMania.
In Residence Challenge, residence halls compete to see which can conserve the most electricity. It its 10 years of existence, Residence Challenge has saved more than $70,000 in annual electricity costs, in addition to averting thousands of tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Office of Sustainability. Those savings, according to competition coordinator Damien Snook, can be attributed to many small, individual efforts.
"I'm turning off all of my stuff. I leave my lights off even when I'm in the room," said first-year business management major Christina Bertoncini, as she followed a series of bobcat paw prints leading up to the dining hall entrance.
Student representatives from the Office of Sustainability created the paw prints to represent each of Ohio University's South Green residence halls. The prints noted the electricity savings of each hall since Jan. 18, the kick-off of Residence Challenge 2010. The competition runs through March 7.
Representatives from the Office of Sustainability greeted students at the entrance of the dining hall, offering up free CFLs in exchange for incandescent bulbs.
Inside the dining hall, a display table set up by the Office of Sustainability featured the latest competition results for Residence Challenge. To date, Ryors Hall is leading conservation efforts among Ohio University's residence halls, with 18.2 percent cumulative electricity savings.
Kimberly Miller, a resident assistant in True House, said she intentionally came to Nelson Dining Hall to support the event. Miller, a second-year hearing, speech and language science major, created a bulletin board to remind students in True about the conservation competitions on campus. Many other RAs across campus are making similar efforts, she said.
"I know a lot of the RA's have been promoting conservation, especially with RecycleMania going on, so I think a lot of the students know what's going on," she added.
"Personally, I didn't know anything about (the conservation dinner). I just walked in looking for a dinner and the lights were all off," said senior specialized studies major James Stennies. "The others were teasing me, saying, 'Oh, you could've brought a date.'"
Miller and Stennies were among approximately 1,300 students who dined by candlelight at Nelson, against a backdrop of conservation-themed decorations -- chains of recycled newspapers and paper flowers fashioned out of magazine scraps.
Altogether, the planned conservation dinners will likely include more than 5,000 students, based on average attendance figures at the campus' four resident dining halls.
"I think there's a good reception for it," said Lori Gromen, a graduate student in environmental studies who works in the Office of Sustainability. "Students find it novel, and some students say it's a romantic or nicer look."
"Students generally don't understand how much energy goes into having your lights on or keeping your stuff plugged in," said senior graphic design major Jacob Szypka, who helped work the Office of Sustainability table. "So it's really about awareness."