‘Green Cup’ fosters new habits and friendly competition

Each February, Washington University students get their competitive spirit ready. But instead of donning athletic gear or studying up for Quiz Bowl, they’re learning about ways to reduce energy consumption.

The Green Cup pits residence halls and on-campus fraternity houses against one another in a series of energy reduction contests. For four weeks, residents turn off lights, unplug chargers, and climb stairs instead of riding elevators. They’re in it for the win, of course, but they also take pride in reducing their carbon footprint – and many retain these new habits long after the competition is complete.

“I don’t expect people to behave all year how they do during Green Cup, but I would expect people to change some habits once they see how easy it is to be more sustainable,” says Ingrid Archibald, sustainability chair for Brookings Residential College, this year’s South 40 winner.

Brookings reduced its energy usage by 22 percent over the course of the month.

Veronica Jong, Congress of the South 40 sustainability chair, takes pride in the fact that WashU is one of the most sustainable college campuses in the United States. The Green Cup is a smaller-scale initiative – compared to other WashU projects such as banning plastic water bottles, growing the compost system, and building LEED-certified buildings – but it engages students in the effort at a very grassroots level and educates the entire campus about the impact their actions can have on the environment.

Archibald says, “I think Green Cup is extremely important, because it not only has a huge effect during the month, but it also just gets people to think about how their decisions are related to energy use. We are so disconnected from where our energy comes from and what effects it has, and having students think about this is a big step.”

The Department of Facilities uses utility-grade electricity meters to track usage during the month for each building and compare those with a baseline measurement. Energy consumption is updated on the Green Cup website each week, and at the end of the month a winner is declared for each of the three areas – the South 40, fraternities, and North Side.

During the competition, residence hall leaders motivate students by hosting events, handing out treats, and reminding them of energy-reduction tips. For instance, Archibald says at Brookings, they sent out a motivational email about Green Cup at the beginning of the month and handed out granola bars with “green tips” to students as they walked to class. They also held an event where students ate green foods, participated in a guacamole-making competition, and were encouraged to sign the sustainability pledge and post pictures on Facebook.

Archibald sums up the experience by saying, “I could not be more proud or excited about how our residents reduced energy! It was so wonderful to see the percentages of energy saving throughout the month.”