URI to survey students, faculty, staff about sustainability, conservation awareness

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Part of campaign to encourage wise energy, resource use

KINGSTON, R.I. – September 9, 2015 – Are you worried about disappearing glaciers, rising sea levels or prolonged drought? Maybe you’re concerned about a warming Narragansett Bay and the declining lobster fishery.

But what can you do about it? Well, if you are a University of Rhode Island student, faculty or staff member you can start by taking a survey.

In conjunction with NORESCO, an energy services company that has been working with URI since 2007 on major energy-saving initiatives, URI will be asking community members during the next few weeks to take a survey to see if they are taking actions that could result in lower energy use and in turn lower carbon emissions. Community members will receive an email with a link to the survey.

Participation is entirely voluntary and responses will remain confidential. However, if you’d like to win a free Fitbit activity monitor, you must enter your email address. Your responses will remain confidential.

Since 2007, URI’s contract with NORESCO has led to savings of 9.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity, almost 16,000 gallons of oil, 772,461 cubic feet of natural gas/steam, and it has reduced carbon dioxide emissions at URI by almost 20 million pounds, or 10,000 tons. That reduction in carbon dioxide is equivalent to removing 490 cars from the road.

The projects that have led to such savings include massive lighting and lighting control upgrades, window replacements, weather proofing improvements, extensive steam system upgrades including the replacement of over 3,500 mechanical steam traps, water conservation measures and the upgrade of a majority of our building management systems helping to improve overall efficiency in how the building operates.

While improved systems and use of new technology result in major energy savings, David Lamb, URI assistant director of Facilities Services for Utilities and member of the President’s Council on Sustainability, said people’s behavior has the greatest impact.

“For instance, many buildings now have sensors that turn lights off a few minutes after people leave a room,” Lamb said. “But instead of relying on a system to shut the lights off in 15 minutes, we want you to turn off the lights manually when you leave. When you are not in your office, turn off the air conditioning. Technology helps us save energy, but we could save so much more if people help out. We want students, faculty and staff to be part of the solution. The survey is fun and it makes you think about how you can make things better.”

The Sustainability Council plans to launch an awareness and action campaign once it has results the survey results.

Faculty and staff have been surveyed once before, and students have been surveyed each year since 2008, once at the beginning of the fall semester and once at the end of the semester to determine if any of the interventions and education programs have changed behaviors.

The student survey, already in circulation, within the next few weeks will have a residential focus, while the faculty and staff instrument, to be distributed within the next few weeks will focus on workplace habits.

NORESCO’S Energy Conservation Through Behavior Change program at URI began with students in 2008. Since that time, the program has targeted shorter showers, turning off electric devices, using cold water for laundry, shutting off or putting computers in sleep mode and even reducing trash. The program has yielded great results thus far.

In total, NORESCO and URI have collected more than 8,000 survey responses since 2008. In 2013, 916 students completed the pre-program survey and in 2014, that number jumped to 1,220 students. NORESCO and URI would like to increase that number to at least 1,500 students this academic year.

In 2012, 227 faculty and staff took the survey, and this year the goal is at least 500.

“We will analyze the information we get and propose programs that can have the greatest impact,” said Marsha Garcia, campus sustainability officer and coordinator of the President’s Council on Sustainability.

“This is a concerted effort to find out what people do and how they can be part of the solution,” Garcia said. “Since students notice everything faculty and staff do, we can be role models. But if we talk about the importance of sustainability and our actions don’t match our messages, students will pick up on those inconsistencies.”