Every Duke student who has lived on East Campus since 2002 has heard of Eco-Olympics. I say it’s time to spread the competitive energy and engage the rest of campus.
In its current form, Eco-Olympics is held every Fall for several weeks. It pits freshman dorms against one another in a competition that awards points for energy reduction, events attendance and recycling. The winning dorm gets T-shirts and ice cream.
The campus-wide version will require some tweaking to this model and a new name, but it offers the following benefits: a) It will build community spirit. b) It will engage non-residential populations. c) It will provide incentive to participate in existing programs. And d) it will put real data into the public domain.
Let’s look at each point.
Mundane activities like recycling your office paper, turning off the lights or commuting to the office aren’t necessarily fun by themselves. Right now, you might be inclined to do them out of habit, because it’s convenient or because you derive satisfaction from doing things that are socially acceptable and encouraged. Now, if you get a group of friends or colleagues together, these activities can become a bonding experience. Get yourself a rival, and the passion to achieve naturally gets kicked up a notch. An Eco-Olympics for all of Duke should provide both the “Kumbaya” kind of community building and the kind of community bonding that only rivalry-leading-to-positive-social-change can build. Plus, this would be a program we could totally brag about!
Next, Duke University is composed of some 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students, only about 10 percent of whom are freshmen living on East Campus. That means there is a significant, untapped population just waiting to be engaged.
At a graduate student retreat in January, students in a roundtable discussion on sustainability from such schools as the Fuqua School of Business and Sanford School for Public Policy were like, “Yea, I would want to compete against other schools at Duke, but I also need to know that my actions are making a difference.” Staff members want in, too; I know they do, and well, fine, we can let the professors play as well.
Which brings me to the next point: incentive. This is not about grades, but about points, and it runs both ways. On the competitor side there is also glory, a sense of moral righteousness and camaraderie (we’ll get to prizes in a second). On the University side, the competition would highlight existing programs like carpool incentives and award points for enrolling members. It could also measure tons of trash diverted to recycling programs or percentage reductions in energy or water use due to conservation measures or changes in behavior.
Finally, and most importantly, the real data that is already being tracked by the service sectors of the University would be used, displayed, digested and owned by everyone.
It’s time to open the floodgates and let the data out!
Facilities Management is migrating its data to a user-friendly platform that will have limited access and that should be out of beta in a couple months. This data could be easily mined and stripped of cost-sensitive information for display on dashboards across campus. (On a side note: Dashboards are not new, and it’s a shame we don’t have any yet. Let’s get on that.) The competition data can also be available through an online portal so users can interact with it.
Some work will have to be done to migrate other data streams—like waste and recycling tonnage—to the existing metered utility data, but this is an investment worth making if Duke is serious about all aspects of sustainability. And I think we are.
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The detractors to this egalitarian proposal might mention that Sustainable Duke already engages the community by sending out Green Devil Challenges to members of the Duke community who have signed the sustainability pledge. I counter: These challenges are voluntary and do not measure action, but they are a good start and should be included in the competition.
Despite the myriad benefits of a University-wide Eco-Olympics, this program will likely cost money. We should evaluate the associated costs, with the understanding that we will reap the rewards of the investment with positive publicity (hard to quantify monetarily), decreased operating expenses and lower cost of offsets in 2024, the date set for carbon neutrality. The community is also likely to learn a great deal in the process. Knowledge in the service of society....
But wait, there’s more; I haven’t gotten to prizes yet. They should be good—more than, but also including a trophy—certainly more than T-shirts and ice cream. That is all. Discuss.
Liz Bloomhardt is a fourth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Friday.