Plan to Power Down for Break

Post originally published in 2016 and contributed by Kenzley Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern 

The holiday break for Auburn University is just around the corner, so there’s no doubt people’s thoughts are filled with travel plans to see family and friends. Much of campus is vacant during the winter weeks of December and January, as most students go home and many faculty and staff aren’t in their offices for part of the break. Have you ever considered what goes on in empty residence halls and offices when no one is living or working in them? In terms of human use, there may not be much activity, however, lots of energy is still being used when there’s no one there to enjoy it. Given the large amount of money Auburn University spends on powering campus per year, around $13,555,000 for electricity and $4,841,000 for natural gas, any actions we can take will help the university save money over winter break. In addition, energy production and consumption from non-renewable sources is a main emitter of greenhouse gases, which are contributing to climate change. By being aware of how you leave your residence hall, office, or apartment for a long break, you can help the Auburn community save money and energy this winter. So this year, before you start packing to leave campus, take a minute to check out these tips to power down during the holiday break!

Picture of Electrical Cord PlugUnplug appliances
  • Computer monitors, printers, scanners, televisions, gaming systems, space heaters, fans, lamps, toasters, and coffeemakers are great places to start, as these appliances won’t be used if no one is in the building over a long break. Appliances such as these consume a phantom energy load, meaning they pull energy even when not turned on or in direct use. Annually 75% of electricity used to power homes is consumed when products are off1. By unplugging over break, you can get rid of phantom energy loads throughout your residence hall, apartment, or office building.
Unplug and clean refrigerators and freezers
  • The electricity used by larger appliances is significant, and reducing it can greatly increase savings if not in use for a month. If you can completely unplug, be sure no food is left inside, so you won’t come back to a spoiled mess. If it’s not possible to unplug, cleaning refrigerators and freezers is still beneficial. Dust and dirt that build up on coils located under and behind the unit cause it to work harder for longer cycles. Energy consumption can be reduced 6% by removing dust from the outside of the appliance 2-3 times a year5. In addition, frost build up increases the amount of energy needed to run. Before leaving for break is a perfect time to clean, defrost, and unplug.
Turn off lights
  • In a typical campus building 31% of energy use comes from lighting,2 making turning off lights an easy way to save both money and energy. Before walking out of the office or residence hall for break, do a quick walk through and flip the switches off.
Lower blinds and close curtains
  • Heat transfer occurs from warm to cool areas, meaning a warm house in the winter is subject to lose heat as it flows to the cooler outside temperatures. Even when all windows appear to be completely closed, heat is still lost through a building’s walls, roof, and floor. About 35% of the heat produced by a building will be lost through gaps in and around windows and doors3. By closing curtains and blinds before leaving, you can decrease the amount of heat wasted from your residence hall or office building.
Turn thermostats down
  • In an apartment you have direct control of your unit’s heating and cooling system and can adjust accordingly for the time you will be gone by turning your heating system down. In an office setting, even if you only control your individual room or you have a limited range of control, remember every degree counts and even small efforts can cause big changes. In fact, lowering the thermostat by 1 degree results in monetary savings of 3% off your bill4. Not only will this save you money, it’s environmentally-friendly because fewer resources will be used for heating an unoccupied building.

These small actions are good habits to develop every time you leave a building, and are especially important before leaving for an extended amount of time. Make this holiday break more sustainable and give a gift to the environment by powering down your residence hall, apartment, or office building before leaving campus!




1 Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. Take Control and Save.

2 National Grid. Managing Energy Costs in Colleges and Universities.

3 The Green Age. Where am I loosing heat in my home?

4 US News- Personal Finance. 9 Ways to Save on Your Utility Bill.

5 Horizon Services: Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning. Frugal Fridge Maintenance Can Save You Energy…and Cold Hard Cash.


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Director’s Corner: Sustainable Landscapes: An Expression of Ethics

“There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.  Land … is still property.  The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations.”

— Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949

Sustainable landscapes result when we apply ethical standards to decision-making about land use.  Unsustainable landscapes result when, as Aldo Leopold observes, land is thought of merely as property from which self-interest can derive economic gain, “entailing privileges but not obligations.”

The conditions described by Leopold in 1949 remain altogether too true today.  Serious landscape degradation for short-sighted economic gain, locally and globally, is a significant and growing problem.

Leopold’s writings on environmental conservation are some of the most important contributions to the modern sustainability movement.  He argued that proper land use is an ethical proposition.  According to Leopold, the premise of ethics is “that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts,” and therefore individuals must consider that community when making decisions. He goes on to say “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, water, plants, and animals, or collectively, the land.”

His ideas are undergirded by one of the most important principles of ecology and sustainability: interconnectedness. Embracing a land ethic, we change our attitudes and perspectives, our relationship with the community: “In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”

A land ethic also transforms our framework for decision-making and taking action.  We meet our obligation to the community of interdependent parts and set about restoring the damage done.

Much of the sustainability movement is about restoration: restoring healthy ecosystem functioning; restoring community; restoring health and wellbeing; restoring connections that have been severed.  When it comes to landscapes, land use, and land functioning, we know how to do this.  We know how to restore and recreate landscapes and the benefits they provide.  What’s more, we have plenty of examples of doing it spectacularly well.

Photo of Central Park in New York City
Spaces like those in New York City’s Central Park serve as spaces to rejuvenate both people and nature. Photo credit NYC Tourist

Perhaps the best example of restoring and recreating degraded landscapes is the very first major effort attempted in the United States. In the 1850s, Frederick Law Olmstead had the task of transforming a dismal property that was about to be overrun by a rapidly expanding city.  Author Douglas Strong describes that landscape in his excellent book Defenders and Dreamers: “A few rocks and barren pastures appeared between low, swampy areas that were ‘steeped in the overflow and mush of pigsties, slaughter houses, and bone-boiling works.’” Bleah.  Doesn’t sound like much.  But with vision and determination, Olmstead and his colleagues created Central Park in New York City, the first of America’s great city parks.  In the process he laid the foundation for landscape architecture in the United States.

Olmstead went on to create seventeen major parks including Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Franklin Park in Boston.  He transformed the landscape at Biltmore, the Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, NC, and created the master plan for the campus of Stanford University.  He also had a hand in protecting Yosemite Valley prior to its establishment as a national park.

It is particularly interesting to note Olmstead’s motivation for his extraordinary work.  It was the same as Leopold’s: ethics.  He had a strong sense of social justice.  He understood nature’s value beyond economic self-interest and our obligation to protect, restore, and recreate conditions for nature’s beauty and bounty to flourish.

He believed parks and other beautiful natural settings were essential to human welfare, a concept validated on a regular basis in current human health research.  At a time when the wealthy were buying large tracts of land and creating estates, Olmstead felt government, reflecting the will of the people, had an obligation to set aside and protect parks and open spaces and make them accessible to all, especially to the poor who otherwise would never have access to such places.

Sustainable landscape architecture today considers the inputs and outputs of land use, and finds ways to eliminate negative impacts and create restorative ones.  In the United States “Green Industry,” planting to create sustainable landscapes, has become economically the largest segment of plant agriculture.

Sustainable landscaping, reflecting a land ethic, can be practiced in our own yards and neighborhoods.  It means reducing the need for irrigation.  It means treating stormwater the way nature does — by spreading it out, slowing it down, and letting it soak into the ground, thereby preserving the natural hydrologic cycle and replenishing groundwater.  It means minimizing and eliminating the use of chemicals; eliminating non-native and invasive plants; promoting biodiversity and habitat creation; using locally-sourced materials; and so on.  Check out Alabama Smart Yards as a guide for doing this.

The entire sustainability movement is based on ethics, on a recognition that each of us “is a member of a community of interdependent parts” and reminds us of our obligation to consider our impacts on others, the world around us, and future generations.  Because of the pioneering work of Leopold and Olmstead, and the many people who have followed their lead, we have an ethical framework for decision-making and spectacular examples of what we can create.

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Ongoing Drought Needs Us All to be Water Wise

UPDATE: We’ve received a nice amount of rain here in Auburn over the past month.  Enough rain has fallen for the City of Auburn Water Works Board to lift the Phase II Drought Warning, but they continue to monitor conditions and ask residents keep up their voluntary water conservation efforts.  Despite the much-needed rain, most of the state continues to suffer from drought conditions and can benefit from every drop saved!

Visit any county in the state of Alabama and you will find farmers, towns, and cities attempting to cope with a severe lack of rain.  Due to these ongoing drought conditions Governor Bentley issued a statewide emergency and burn ban. In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture declared over 77% of the state a natural disaster area.

As of early November, locations throughout Alabama would need 4 to 15 inches of rain to emerge from the drought.  Unfortunately, long-range forecasts predict drought conditions to persist, or even worsen, through the end of January 2017.

In light of this situation, the City of Auburn Water Works Board has issued a Phase II Drought Warning, which puts mandatory water restrictions in place for residential and commercial water users. To compliment these efforts, Auburn University has instituted measures throughout its operations to curtail water use, including: reducing irrigation usage; discontinuing vehicle washing; only pressure washing when needed for health/safety reasons; and deferring high water use maintenance activities, where feasible.

You can help our community preserve drinking water supplies by committing to reduce your own water usage.  Whether you live on or off campus, in an apartment, duplex, condo, or house, we’ve pulled together some simple actions you can take to do your part.

4-drought-actionsIn the Laundry Room

  • Run only full loads.
  • Adjust water level to load size.
  • Re-wear clothes before washing.
  • Re-use towels before washing.
  • Combine clothes from multiple people into one load.
  • Repair any leaks.

In the Kitchen

  • Use the dishwasher instead of handwashing.
  • Only run full dishwasher loads.
  • Scrape dishes, instead of rinsing, before loading dishwasher.
  • Clean dishes ASAP to avoid the need to scrub.
  • Soak hard to clean dishes rather than letting water run on them.
  • Minimize dish use by re-using before washing.
  • Don’t use running water to defrost food.
  • Use water from cooking vegetables to water plants.
  • Fix all water leaks.
  • Don’t waste the water that runs while you wait on it to get hot. Capture the pre-hot water to use on plants, in the garden, or as water for pets.

In the Bathroom

  • Turn off water while you wash your hands/face, shave, and brush your teeth.
  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • Shorten your showers.
  • Take fewer showers.
  • Try dry shampoo.
  • Use an electric razor.
  • Participate in No-Shave November.
  • Repair a running toilet/dripping faucet.
  • Don’t use the toilet as a trash can.
  • Institute a “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” practice.
  • Try taking a military shower.


  • If you must water with sprinklers, make sure you’re not watering pavement.
  • Try hand watering.
  • Water only early in the morning or at night.
  • Don’t wash your vehicles.
  • Don’t pressure wash.
  • Avoid planting new plants/trees/flowers.
  • Cover pools/hot tubs to avoid evaporation.
  • Fix all water leaks.

Other Opportunities to Save

  • Install WaterSense fixtures: showerheads, faucets, toilets, urinals, irrigation controls.
  • Install soil moisture sensors.
  • Use drip irrigation.
  • Try xeriscaping.
  • Plant native.
  • Install a rainwater capture system.

Thank you for doing your part; every drop makes a difference!

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Join the Dark Side

Post contributed by Kyle Kimel, Office of Sustainability Intern

Energy-saving practices are an interesting topic of discussion. It seems the students I’ve talked with admit it can be very easy to save energy, but at the same time, they also admit they never really think about it in their daily lives. The lifestyle and mindset of “nothing I do will actually make a difference” needs to change.

Americans have done a better job of slowing down our energy consumption trend over the past five years. But think about the difference we could make if everyone did the “easy” things every day, like turning off the lights and adjusting the thermostat when you leave the house. Not only would we save energy, but we would also be saving LOTS of money. The typical household spends over two thousand dollars on utility bills annually, and could be cut by almost twenty-five percent with energy saving techniques. With over 100 million residences in the United States, that’s roughly 400 million dollars that’s being wasted on unnecessary energy consumption.

Photo of Computer Shutdown
Powering down electronics only takes a second, but can help make a world of difference.

As college students, we can do our part by making the “easy” things part of our daily routine. When you leave for class every day and when you go to bed, make sure all the lights in your apartment or dorm are turned off. Another easy way for students to save energy is by turning off your gaming consoles when you’re not playing them. Even if they aren’t actually being used, gaming consoles use lots of energy just having them plugged in.

Although turning off the lights and adjusting your thermostat are great sustainable practices and an easy way to save money, we have to start taking the necessary steps as active citizens to impact our community on a larger scale. If you want to have a greater influence on the University and the surrounding community, you can register to vote in the City of Auburn and get actively involved in policy change that affects you personally.

How we get around also contributes to the energy that we consume. If you live on campus, try walking whenever you can, and only drive when it’s a necessity. If you live off campus, try walking, biking, or utilizing the transit system, whenever possible. Auburn University have made a great effort to provide a high-quality bus transit for its students, and a bike friendly campus; so let’s take advantage of it and save some energy and resources in the process.

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