Twenty-four teams of students kicked off the JouleBug Sustainability Contest at 12 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 11 by downloading a campus-specific phone application that will help them track their environmentally-friendly actions until Sunday, Nov. 24.
The contest uses JouleBug, a mobile application that allows users to “buzz” sustainable actions, such as using reusable mugs or dressing warmly instead of using central heating, in order to earn sustainability badges. Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Government, and East Asian Studies Mary Alice Haddad and her “Environmental Politics and Democratization” seminar organized the two-week competition in conjunction with the Sustainability Office and the JouleBug company.
“Last spring I was introduced to Grant Willard, a co-founder of JouleBug, and we were talking about how to use social media to promote sustainability,” Haddad said. “The connection between an on-campus contest and the issues covered in my environmental politics seminar seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
The contest coordinators worked with JouleBug over the summer and the last few months to develop a University-specific version of the app, organized by locations such as the Usdan Marketplace, Pi Café, Weshop, and housing zones. Sustainability Intern Ari Lewenstein ’16 explained why the application was redesigned to be specific to the University.
“The app unaltered has stuff like ‘buying a dishwasher,’” Lewenstein said. “We had to narrow it down because if there was a huge wealth of options, it’d be really overwhelming. We wanted to make sure it was really targeted to what we can do here.”
Haddad noted that she has three main goals for the project relating to environmental sustainability on campus.
“[First,] I hope that the experience of organizing and running the contest gives the students in my class some valuable insights into what it means to ‘do’ environmental politics,” Haddad said. “Second, I’m hoping that the contest will generate some data that can be used to begin researching how social media affects actual environmental behavior. Long term, I hope that the contest will contribute to the creation of a more sustainable culture here at Wes and that it is a first step in a long and productive collaboration with JouleBug.”
Both the Sustainability Office and the students in the seminar coordinated the foundational partnership with JouleBug. The day-to-day activities of the contest are being run by the members of the seminar, who have been advertising and registering teams for the last few weeks.
Samira Siddique ’15, a student in the seminar, believes that this contest will help students be more aware of how they are using energy.
“It’s important for people at Wesleyan to be more conscious of how they use their energy, and…[live] in a more sustainable way on campus,” Siddique said. “It’s important in general for people to be more mindful of the way they use their space and to start building these healthy habits now. It’s our living space, so we should use it wisely.”
Each of the 24 teams has a captain who is officially registered as its point person in the contest. Since there are no team size restrictions, the coordinators will decide scoring and prizes at the end of the competition period based on what is financially feasible for them. Possible prizes include Middletown cash, discounts at local restaurants, and VIP passes to Spring Fling. In addition, any savings incurred from residential energy bills during the competition will be donated directly to financial aid.
Sustainability Coordinator Jennifer Kleindienst is hopeful that the competition and prizes will motivate students to participate and continue their green habits after the contest’s conclusion.
“[We are] just getting people to think about sustainability on a daily basis,” Kleindienst said. “It’s not something to do on a special occasion or just something that Wesleyan as a university does…[we need to be] taking personal ownership. [The contest] is just another way of trying to make sustainability fun.”
JouleBug has coordinated similar competitions at universities around the country to help them be more sustainable. JouleBug Founder Grant Willard explained that most people are not conscious of many of their energy decisions.
“A lot of the time when we are at school, at a party, or at work, someone else is paying for our electricity and other resources,” Willard wrote in an email to The Argus. “So, as economists would say, ‘without pricing signals’, we don’t consider our consumption habits. Often times, our incremental consumption is almost infinitesimally small (plastic coffee cup lid or a straw, a light left on for a few extra minutes, a thermostat set up/down a degree or two, etc.). We don’t think that these same activities are done by hundreds of millions of people, sometimes several times a day. The collective waste has historically been incomprehensible.”
Willard added that JouleBug provides a social setting to help its users be more conscious of all of the ways they can save energy in their daily lives.
“It all adds up, which means we all have a role to play,” Willard wrote. “[….]We think the combination of social, mobile, and a game can positively influence our behavior for the good of pocketbooks and the planet.”
The contest coordinators hope to compare the data from JouleBug buzzes around campus with energy consumption data from the University.
“The way we’ll know JouleBug is working is if, for example, we see tons of points are being given at Pi Café for using reusable mugs, and we see that in the month of October versus the month of November, the usage of cups at Pi goes down 15 percent or something, not because they’re losing business, but because people are bringing in reusable mugs,” Lewenstein said. “Then we’ll know that there’s a correlation between people getting this app, wanting to earn points, and using that to get the corresponding drop [in cup usage].”
Sustainability Intern Isabel Stern ’14 hopes that JouleBug will help students see the real-world benefits of a sustainable lifestyle.
“Just looking through the pins [is helpful] because you can see that using reusable mugs saves X amount of energy, [and] you can see statistics behind each action,” Stern said. “[Otherwise] people might not actually be able to connect their actions to real energy saved. So I think apps like [JouleBug] are a nice way to get numbers involved and actually see it instead of just feeling like you’re making a difference by bringing a mug.”
Daniel Wittenberg ’16, another student in Haddad’s seminar, is also serving as a team captain. He hopes that the contest will be both enjoyable and effective.
“While it seems a little arbitrary to be doing these things and then buzzing them, it’s [encouraging] sustainability through social media,” Wittenberg said. “I think it’s really fun, and I think in a competition setting it’s more effective. Ultimately, we’re prompting sustainability, so the goal is to actually see decreases in the number of cups we use, the number of pages we print, and the energy we use.”