It was only an hour, but Goshen College joined 50 million people around the world on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. to raise awareness about global climate change and energy consumption by turning off unnecessary lights during Earth Hour, sponsored by World Wildlife Fund.
W.W.F. recognized Goshen College as a "flagship campus" along with 79 other college campuses across the United States. Glenn Gilbert , utilities manager of Physical Plant, signed the college up for the event. But to become a "flagship campus" President Brenneman signed a commitment to have events held on campus to celebrate Earth Hour.
During the hour, students gathered in the Kratz-Miller residence hall Connector for a drum circle and to watch a video projection of the campus electrical meter to see how many kilowatts the campus was using. Steve Shantz, systems operation technician for Physical Plant, was available to answer student questions about campus energy use.
According to W.W.F., 35 countries and over 400 cities also participated in the event. The first Earth Hour happened in 2007 in Sydney, Australia.
Gilbert said that during the hour the campus was using about 430 kilowatts, about the amount of electricity typically used at 3 a.m. "I thought we might get a little lower than that, but it's not too bad," Gilbert said.
The production of "The Gondoliers" likely accounted for much of that usage. But they too participated in Earth Hour.
As intermission ended around 9:20 p.m. (ten minutes before the end of Earth Hour), the operetta observed an "Earth Minute." During the minute, all the lights in Umble were turned off as Grace Magnan, a senior environmental science and theater double major, spoke about the event being held on campus and around the world.
So how much money did Goshen save? "About $15," Gilbert said. "Lights when needed are a bargain, but when used unnecessarily are a waste."
And finding a balance between using lights when necessary and recognizing lights that are on around campus that are wasteful is a challenge Gilbert has been working on for years and continues to work on today.
According to Gilbert, he and others working at the Physical Plant are looking for ways to cut down on energy use throughout campus. "We've been systematically going through each building to see if we can save energy," Gilbert said.
This year alone, Gilbert said that the amount of energy saved by turning off lights in the Student Apartments, Science Hall and Music Center have saved the college about $8,000, which is equivalent to half a coal car.
"We've grown accustom to this thing that's only been around about 120 years," Gilbert said. "I don't want to compromise safety, but I do want to challenge the assumption that [certain lights] are necessary because we're used to them."
Gilbert said he has seen the interest of students in energy conservation and sustainability rise significantly in the last few years. "I've never experienced the level of interest that I see now," Gilbert said. "Students are wondering how they can get involved and help. It's really gratifying."