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Competition Spurs
Energy Savings

The Durham (NC) Public Schools challenged school leaders and other staff to identify ways to reduce energy consumption and help cut the districts electric bill. In return, the schools that reduced consumption the most got to share in the savings. Included: Is this something your school district might do too? Plus suggestions for cutting back on energy consumption.

To reduce energy consumption and save money, the Durham (North Carolina) Public Schools administration challenged each school to identify ways it might conserve energy during the school year. And the district came out the big winner.

In the first two years of the DPS Energy Incentive Program, some district schools saved almost 10 billion BTUs of energy. To generate interest among faculty and students in the program, the district has awarded part of the overall energy cost savings to the schools whose ideas resulted in the greatest reduction in energy consumption.

Its difficult to motivate people when they dont have a direct vested interest in something, said John Langsdorf, the districts director of facility support services, who initiated the program two years ago. Energy bills are paid by the district; the schools basically dont see them. But you can motivate people if they have a stake in it.


Langsdorf said he proposed the competition for the district because he implemented a similar program while serving in the U.S. Air Force, and it yielded significant savings. In Durham, schools receive updates on their energy consumption during the year, reports on how the level compares with the previous year, and what the energy consumption equates to in dollars.

When the program started, students and teachers were encouraged to turn off lights when rooms were not in use, shut down computer monitors, and be mindful of overall energy usage. Older computer monitors, for example, use a significant amount of energy, Langsdorf said. The message and potential cash awards led to a lot of unplugging. During the first year, 2007-08, the district saved 3.8 billion BTUs .In 2008-09, the top 13 schools in the district saved 6.1 billion BTUs -- an equivalent dollar value of nearly $110,000. So those 13 schools ended up saving more energy than a typical elementary school uses in an entire year.

You can motivate people if they have a stake in it.

The amount of the monetary awards is not set at the beginning at the year; it is based on what the district can afford, Langsdorf said. Schools received from $500 up to $2,000.


Administrators at two of the top energy-saving schools, each of which received $2,000 for their efforts, told Education World that getting students as well as teachers involved helped make the difference. At Jordan High School, the administration installed energy-efficient lighting and a new heating, air conditioning, and ventilating system. Students knew about the changes and the contest and reminded teachers to turn off lights and shut windows, principal Richard Webber said. Sometimes [when the weather is warm] it might be cooler in the morning, and people would open windows, but then it is harder to cool the building when it gets hotter, Webber told Education World. We try to make adjustments so we dont have to use the air conditioning all the time.

Students in the schools recycling group, made up of students in the AP environmental science class, also became very involved. The teachers bought into it and the students bought into it, Webber added.

Students and teachers at Lowes Grove Middle School also became more conscious of shutting off lights and computers, said principal Kathy Kirkpatrick. Staff members also cut down on the number of fans and small refrigerators in the building, she added.

Youre saving trees, saving money, and if children are learning about conservation at an earlier age, they can put ideas to work when they get to high school.

Youngsters in the schools Citizen Schools afterschool program in particular embraced the competition, Kirkpatrick added. Those students worked with members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an apprenticeship to identify areas of usage, measure the wattage used by various items, prepare a written report, and present their findings to the administrative staff.

Lowes Grove used its $2,000 for student planners, literacy materials, and calculators; Jordan High bought supplemental texts and consumable items.

I would recommend the program, Webber said. Youre saving trees, saving money, and if children are learning about conservation at an earlier age, they can put ideas to work when they get to high school.

The cost of implementing this type of competition is minimal, Langsdorf noted. Besides the monetary awards, the only cost is the time needed to format and generate reports for schools, and then they can be sent by e-mail, he said. Its certainly a way of making people more aware of how much energy they are consuming and how many little things you can do to save energy that dont effect the quality of education.


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Article by Ellen Delisio
Education World®
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