AC Unplugged 2022 Wraps: 6 Ways to Keep Saving Energy All Year Long

By Kabyl Utley ’24 and Audrey Rodgers ’23

Q: What is AC Unplugged?

A: AC Unplugged is an annual energy saving competition hosted by THINK, pitting the four traditional residence halls at Austin College against each other — and themselves — to reduce their energy use throughout the month of October. The event aims to help students lower their energy consumption, make better usage habits, AND benefit the local community through charitable donations made by THINK on behalf of contest winners.

Q: How do you win the competition and what is the prize?

A: THINK records baseline data for each residence hall at the end of September, then uses that baseline to graph changes in energy use overall and per individual throughout October. The residence hall that reduces their consumption the most from the baseline is awarded the top prize. The prize for first place is $300, second place is $250, third place is $200, and fourth place is $150. All halls cooperatively donate their prize money to a local charity of their choice at the end of the competition. The first-place winner is also awarded the official Thinking Green Championship Belt, along with bragging rights for next year’s competition.

Q: Which residence hall won the 2022 competition?

A: Baker Hall narrowly took first place over Dean Hall and Caruth, last year’s victor. Baker Hall residents reduced their energy consumption by nearly 60 percent compared to baseline data over the course of the competition. Nearly 4,000 kWh of energy savings were recorded for Baker alone. Baker donated their $300 prize to the Grayson County Crisis Center.

Q: Why is saving energy important? What are the benefits?

A: Saving energy is important for the environment for various reasons: it can help lessen carbon emissions, reduce pollutants in the air and water, and conserve vital natural resources. Current energy production often requires the burning of fossil fuels. By reducing our overall energy usage, we are effectively decreasing the amount of energy needed to be produced, resulting in a more sustainable system.

Q: What are some ways that students can reduce their energy use?

A: We’re glad you asked! Overconsumption of energy is a big contributor to climate change. According to the EPA, 40 percent of all energy consumed in the United States is used for electricity. Reducing your use of electricity is essential for reducing your environmental footprint. In college, it’s easy to get caught up in your school work and social life and disregard your impact. However, there are many simple ways in which you can alter your behavior that have beneficial impacts on the environment. Here are six easy ways to keep saving:

Flip the switch! It is so simple, yet so effective. Ensure your lights are off when not in use. You could even opt out of using artificial light entirely by opening your blinds during the day and using natural light instead. You could also consider using more energy efficient light bulbs, such as LEDs, and rely on lamps for light during the night.

Unplug (literally) Contrary to what you may think, electronic devices still use energy when they’re plugged in, even if they aren’t in use. Unplugging lamps, TVs, laptops, and other electronics can help conserve energy. Using power strips could make this even easier — just flip the off switch, and it’ll power down all your devices at once! Also, it isn’t necessary to keep your phone or laptop plugged in overnight. Just make sure your device is fully charged before you go to bed, so you can keep it unplugged through the night.

Use cold water Using cold water instead of hot water helps conserve energy by reducing the amount of energy required to heat it. Taking cold showers or washing your items in cold water is a good way to implement this. You could also reduce the amount of time you spend in the shower if you are using hot water. A fun way to do this can be by putting on music while you’re in the shower and getting out when the first or second song is over.

Skip the AC, open a window! Instead of using your air conditioner, open a window! Not only will it help conserve electricity, but also your energy bill. To make it easier, dress for the weather. In the winter, pile up under some blankets or wear a sweater inside if you get cold. In the summer, stick to lighter clothing or turn on a fan. Electric heaters, anyone?

Take a hike (to class) Here at Austin College, we are lucky to have an easily walkable campus. Considering it is so small, walking to class is easy. It can decrease your energy consumption and increase your overall physical wellbeing. Driving to classes increases the amount of emissions cars put into the atmosphere, as well as how much money you’re spending on gas. According to the CDC, spending at least 150 minutes doing physical activity per week significantly reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. Many college students struggle to find time for physical activity during the school year, so walking to classes is an easy way to ensure you’re getting those steps in. There are so many benefits to walking!

Change your laundry habits There are many ways we can change our habits when it comes to doing laundry that can reduce our environmental footprints significantly. Spacing out how often you do your laundry can not only decrease your energy use, but also your water usage. Instead of doing frequent, small loads of laundry, just do big loads less often. This can save the amount of time you spend on laundry as well. You can also skip the dryer! Letting your clothes air dry keeps them in good shape, so they last longer and it doesn’t require any energy.

GreenServe 2022 brings out students’ green thumb

By Brittany McMillen ’22

On April 23, 2022, AC students participated in the college’s 12th annual GreenServe service event, where volunteer projects are focused on environmental responsibility and sustainability. Co-sponsored by THINK and the Austin College Service Station, this event has generated over 3,500 service hours for volunteering students since the project began in 2010. It has also spawned numerous collaborations with area non-profits and other organizations within the community.

Students, alone and in organizations, are encouraged to sign up in the weeks leading up to GreenServe. During the week of the event, smaller gatherings are normally hosted to raise awareness about the upcoming service day. This year, THINK hosted an art night, where students got to make wearable buttons and other art using recycled materials, and a “Beengo” bingo night, where the hosts provided facts about bees and how they are an integral part of the ecosystem facing immense environmental pressure. Bees were the theme of this year’s event.

At 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, all the students, staff, and faculty that signed up to volunteer gathered at the College Green, where they received official GreenServe 2022 T-shirts and donuts provided by Momo’s as a send off before they began volunteering. Then teams of students, each with a THINK member as their site leader for the day, peeled off to various places in the Sherman/Denison community to complete or assist with a service project.

At the Sherman and Pottsboro community gardens, students worked to maintain beds and prepare them for further planting. At two Habitat for Humanity sites, students in Lambda Chi fraternity worked to organize and maintain the Restore thrift store warehouse, while the CHAMPS disability advocacy group on campus continued construction on a historic 100-year-old home site near in Denison. At Eisenhower State Park and Sneed Prairie, students in organizations such as Rho Lambda Theta and Gamma Gamma Gamma completed regular maintenance needs like trail clearing and fence repair. At multiple highways, Alpha Phi Omega and Service Station board members collected trash. In Sherman’s downtown square, yet another group of students assisted with tabling and logistics for the Texoma Earth Day Festival and recycling event hosted by the City of Sherman.

A unique feature to this year’s GreenServe was the increased opportunity for groups to complete service on campus. This semester, the Center for Environmental Studies and THINK launched the “Adopt a Butterfly Bed” on campus. The goal is to revamp our campus flower beds with native, perennial grasses and flowers that are planted and maintained by student organizations throughout the year. Alpha Phi Omega, the Drakes, and Theta Sigma Chi were among some of the groups that adopted a bed and spent their GreenServe morning on campus working in their beds.

“Adopt a Butterfly Bed” proposal approved

The Center for Environmental Studies is happy to announce that its recent proposal to increase native, perennial landscaping on campus has been enthusiastically approved by the college’s senior leadership. The “Adopt a Butterfly Bed” project will not only help to enhance campus aesthetics, but ultimately aims to provide learning and service opportunities for interested student and staff groups while promoting biological diversity and increasing native habitat area and ecosystem services. Hardy perennials also require less water and active maintenance than annuals, saving additional college resources and manpower. 

Environmental Studies faculty and staff members worked with the Physical Plant’s Executive Director of Facilities, David Turk, to create the proposal last fall. Since then, ENVS staff and students have worked to review and expand upon a list of suggested native and perennial plants for our area, identify suitable beds for adoption around campus, and establish connections with the local chapter of Master Gardeners, who are excited to lend a green thumb to burgeoning horticulturists at AC. 

The project has already garnered interest from a number of student organizations on campus, but staff and faculty groups may also apply to adopt. Once high priority beds have been distinguished, beds will be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. The Center for Environmental Studies will distribute tools and training materials in addition to scheduling information sessions for adoptive groups. To maintain a high standard, groups will sign a contract outlining their responsibilities and adopted beds will undergo quality control inspections on a regular basis. 

If you or someone you know would like to get involved with this project, please reach out to ENVS coordinator Rebecca Jones or faculty member Dr. Mari Elise Ewing to express your interest.  

In honor of this laudable landscaping announcement, we’ve (almost literally) taken a page from the work of late local author and Grayson County Master Gardener Jessie Gunn Stephens to offer a few tips for maintaining your own Texoma garden. Her book, “When to do What in your Texoma Yard and Garden,” is available for sale at the Agri-Life Extension office in the Grayson County Courthouse. 

Francesco Gallarotti / Unsplash

How to Plant from Pots 

  1. Take the plant out of the pot. Seems like a no-brainer but, as Stephens writes, “you’d be amazed how often this comes up.” While some pots are biodegradable, Stephens prefers removing the pot to allow for quick root growth. 
  1. Inspect the plant’s root system. Understanding the strength of a plant’s roots can help inform your watering and care practices. Thin, weak roots indicate that a plant may require special treatment until it is established. Thicker, hardier roots (especially in perennials) are more likely to survive transplantation but need to be loosened to allow for spreading. 
  1. Don’t pile dirt over the root ball. According to Stephens, “It’s almost always best to set a plant in the ground so that the surface of the soil ball is either level with or fractionally higher than the surrounding soil.” 

Happy planting!

AC Unplugged promotes healthy competition

By Brittany McMillen ’22

Austin College students are currently competing in the twelfth annual AC Unplugged energy savings competition. The goal of the competition is to teach good energy use habits and to educate students on the environmental impact of high energy consumption.  

AC Unplugged has been a campus tradition for over a decade, beginning in 2010 as a way to encourage a reduction in campus emissions. Since then, the competition has raised over $10,000 for local and national charity organizations and saved more than 97,000 kilowatt hours of electricity between the four residence halls: Caruth, Clyce, Dean and Baker.   

Over the years, the Grayson Crisis Center, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Grayson County, the Texoma Health Clinic, and the Grayson County chapter of Habitat for Humanity have received a large portion of the money donated after being selected by the halls’ popular vote, with the most money being donated by the winning hall each year.  

The theme for this year’s competition celebrates a classic pop ensemble as it encourages students to “spice up their lives” by saving energy. The Spice Girls theme for the 2021 year was selected to encourage campus residents to try new ways to have fun that don’t involve using electricity. In the final week of the competition, Caruth Hall is leading the way with a nearly 30 percent reduction in energy use compared to the baseline.  

AC’s traditional residence halls have already saved more than 30,000 kWh in this year’s contest – a new record. Students have participated in an outdoor game night and a hot sauce eating competition, painted terracotta pots for spice planting, and, this week, are strutting their stuff in a thrifty Spice Girl Lookalike contest. What are you doing to reduce your energy use? 

Austin College (still) Recycles

By Tulwen Adams ’22

With Austin College teaming up with Recyclops to get back to recycling on campus, it’s a good time to ask some fundamental questions about recycling contamination. Namely, what it is, and why it matters.

What is recycling contamination?

Recycling contamination is any non-recyclable item that winds up in the recycling stream. Some contamination might seem obvious, like soiled motor oil containers. Other contaminants are less apparent, like wax-lined paper cups. The two best ways to avoid recycling contamination are to familiarize yourself with what is and isn’t recyclable according to the guidelines of your local service, and to trash items you aren’t sure about. If you’re not sure whether an item is recyclable or not, it’s better off in the trash than contaminating the recycling. Remember, one more item heading to the landfill is better than an entire container of contaminated recycling heading to the landfill.

Why does it matter?

Contaminated recycling doesn’t get reused or repurposed, it goes to the landfill. Even if the recycling isn’t taken to the landfill, contamination creates a major problem for recycling facilities. Contaminants such as plastic bags can wrap around the machinery used to sort and process recyclables, leading to a shut-down of the facility while employees climb inside the equipment to clean out the tangled items. Food containers — like pizza boxes — are often stained with grease that soaks into the paper. If the boxes end up in the recycling, they will be processed along with clean recyclables, contaminating an entire batch of paper pulp with grease and rendering it non-reusable.

What can AC students do to help?

Following the Recyclops guidelines for recycling is essential. So, before you recycle, ensure that:

  1. You have the right bag for your recycling. If you live in the North or South Flats, Bryan Apartments, Roo Suites, or Cottages, make sure you have the required green recycling bags to collect your loose recyclables. You can collect a semester’s supply of these bags from the Environmental Studies Coordinator, Rebecca Jones.
  2. Your items are recyclable. Recyclable items on campus include plastics number 1, 2, or 5; paper; cardboard; and metal containers, such as food tins or soda cans. Ensure that all items are dry and clean of food residue. Paper with dry ink is fine, but wet, shredded or plastic-coated paper is not recyclable. For more information, check out the AC Recycling page.

Remember, if you aren’t sure whether an item is recyclable or not, it’s better to put it in the trash than to risk contaminating the whole container. When in doubt, throw it out!

GreenServe Native Plantings Draw Pollinators and People

 

A student enjoys GreenServe 2018’s on-campus project. Photo courtesy of Dr. Andrea Overbay.

GreenServe 2018 saw the expansion of native plantings on campus.  Sixteen volunteers filled an empty bed behind the Abell Library with six different native species selected with the help of Dr. George Diggs.  Drs. Peter Schulze, Keith Kisselle, and Mari Elise Ewing helped with the effort alongside Thinking Green Campus Awareness student co-leader Julian Coronado.  Even President Steven O’Day and First Lady Cece O’Day dug in and got their hands dirty!

President O’Day digs in. Photo courtesy of Dr. Andrea Overbay.

Native pollinator garden volunteers. Photo courtesy of Dr. Andrea Overbay.

Austin College President Emeritus Dr. Marjorie Hass and the Board of Trustees launched Austin College Thinking Green in 2011 to serve as an umbrella for all campus greening initiatives.  One of the outcomes was the formation of Thinking Green Campus Awareness, a committee of students who identify, organize, and publicize greening activities on campus.  Dr. Mari Elise Ewing, Professor of Environmental Studies, serves as the Director, and Katie Collins and Julian Coronado, both seniors, serve as the two student co-leaders for this academic year.  The mission for Thinking Green Campus Awareness is to increase campus participation in environmental responsibility and sustainable utilization of resources so that students will enrich their communities beyond Austin College.

Organized by Thinking Green Campus Awareness, GreenServe engages students from around campus in a morning of service focused on environmental responsibility and sustainability. Students volunteer at places like Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, Eisenhower State Park, both the Sherman and Pottsboro Community Gardens, and elsewhere throughout the Texoma community on projects such as trail maintenance, invasive species control, and habitat restoration.

A butterfly hovers over Purple Mistflower. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mari Elise Ewing.

GreenServe often includes an on-campus project.  For GreenServe 2016, the on-campus project consisted of expanding the native plants around the LEED Gold certified IDEA Center.  Ninety volunteers planted over 550 native plants paid for by the Student Sustainability Fund, created in 2011 by a vote of the entire student body and maintained through a five dollar annual student fee.  The project increased awareness of and interest in native plants on campus, which lead to GreenServe 2018’s pollinator garden project.

Over the summer, the native plants were in full bloom, drawing numerous butterfly and bee species.  Native plants and pollinators share an important symbiotic relationship, contributing to the health of their ecosystems.  Pollinators use the nectar and pollen they gather for food.  During foraging, they often carry pollen from one flower to another, which is a vital part of the reproductive cycle for many native plants.  Over the years, pollinator populations have declined through habitat loss, disease, and pesticide use.  Planting your own pollinator garden is a great way to help pollinator populations recover, and the pollinators are fun to watch!  More information can be found at the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s pollinators page.

The native plants draw lots of pollinators. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mari Elise Ewing.

A bee lights on some Mealy Sage. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mari Elise Ewing.

If you’d like to recreate our pollinator garden at home, here is the list of species we planted, all native to this area of North Texas:

Gregg Sage (Salvia greggii)

Mealy Sage (Salvia farinacea)

Mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum)

Coneflower (Echinacea species)

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)

 

For photographs and more information about the plants listed above as well as other Texas natives, visit UT Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center webpage.

The pollinator garden in full bloom. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mari Elise Ewing.

GreenServe 2016: Highlighting Native Planting

Seven years ago, Austin College hosted our first GreenServe; an event created and proposed by a student in ENVS 135 (Introduction to Environmental Studies). This campus-wide opportunity attracts nearly 200 volunteers to community service projects focused on environmental responsibility, sustainability, and raising awareness for Thinking Green.

Volunteers for trash pick up at Denison Dam
Volunteers after habitat clean up at Denison Dam.

The event is co-sponsored, organized and implemented by two student led groups: Austin College Thinking Green (or Think) and the Service Station. By tradition, service projects last for three hours on a Saturday morning that falls on or near to Earth Day. In contrast to the three hours spent at each site, there are several weeks and countless hours that go into the planning of GreenServe in hopes that students will be provided with a wide range of opportunities from organizations that will inspire or establish a greater connection and meaning to long term environmental responsibility.

GreenServe Volunteers completing trail maintenance at Binkley Bike Trail.
GreenServe Volunteers completing trail maintenance at Binkley Bike Trail.

During the two weeks before GreenServe students, faculty, and staff, sign up for a project to which they would like to contribute. Some examples include:

  • Site maintenance and restoration work at Sneed Prairie
  • Promoting environmental awareness at Texoma Earth Day Festival
  • Native plantings on campus
  • Maintaining the Sherman Community Garden
  • Environmental Education to students in the RooBound program
  • Habitat clean up at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge

Volunteers prepare to plant their section of plants at GreenServe.
Volunteers prepare to plant their section of plants at GreenServe.

This year, our 7th annual GreenServe, there was a special focus given to a site on our own Austin College campus. Over 80 GreenServe volunteers planted hundreds of native Texas flowering plants and grasses around the IDEA Center to support pollinators and encourage the adoption of native habitat restoration and education.

The plants were purchased with the Student Sustainability Fund.  As a result of a student referendum, five dollars of each student’s activities goes to the Student Sustainability Fund, whose expenditures are chosen by a student committee.

GreenServe volunteers at the native planting site.
GreenServe volunteers at the native planting site.

Next year’s GreenServe will be on Earth Day – April 22, 2017.


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