Science Wednesday: The Sustainability Bowl. (Go Team Go!)

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By Aaron Ferster

It’s that time of year again. Time for preparations, gathering the appropriate supplies, and making necessary travel arrangements. Naturally, I’m referring to the annual ritual of figuring out what college football team is the best.

By ushering in the holiday season, Thanksgiving Day marks the unofficial beginning of the earnest debate over which handful of college football teams are worthy of consideration for the big-time bowl games that will decide which team is this year’s champion.

But while college football is sure to command gobs of newsprint and hours of sports talk radio over the next six weeks or so, another kind of competition has recently unfolded on campuses across the country to somewhat less fanfare. Instead of athleticism, this one aims to recognize colleges for their sustainability prowess.

According to its web site, “the Campus Conservation Nationals 2010 is a nationwide resource use reduction competition that challenges college and university campuses to achieve the greatest electricity and water use reductions during a 3-week period.”

The contest is sponsored in part by a company founded by a winning team from EPA’s P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) competition. The team used their funding awards to develop a “dashboard” system that allows building occupants, such as dorm residents, to wirelessly monitor their electricity and water usage in real-time.

To test their idea, the P3 team pitted two dorms against each other to see who could reduce their energy and water usage the most. As you would expect, when residents were able to keep a close eye on energy use, they were more motivated to conserve.

The idea proved to be a real winner, and the team was able to parlay their success at the EPA P3 sustainable design competition into launching a successful small business. It’s one of several P3 success stories that have not only brought sustainable ideas to the marketplace but helped create jobs.

While a college competition for energy and water consumption savings may not fill a stadium full of spectators, in the long run it could provide just as important a legacy as a national football championship.

About the Author: A science writer-editor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, Aaron Ferster is also editor of Science Wednesday.

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