Ecolympics at Oberlin : The Race to Energy Conservation

Posted by Simbarashe Runyowa
Simbarashe Runyowa
My name is Simbarashe Runyowa, (aka Simba) and I am first year student studying
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on April 20, 2012 in Energy Matters

The Olympic Games kick off in London this year in just under 100 days, but students here in Oberlin, Ohio are warming up for a different sort of competition: The ECO-lympics. The Ecolympics are a campus wide competition aimed at reducing the college’s water and energy consumption as much as possible within a three week period.  This year’s competition, dubbed “Race to a Gigawatt”, will reward the dorm that reduces consumption by the biggest margins with an ice cream party that will take place in the middle of finals.

This year’s Ecolympics, which are being run at Oberlin College as a subsidiary initiative of the nationwide Campus Conservation Nationals, aim to encourage students to become more cognisant of their personal and collective energy and water consumption patterns, as well as highlight some simple but effective strategies that can be employed on an individual basis to help curb energy and water usage.

The competitive nature of the Ecolympics and the attractive prospects of enjoying college sponsored ice cream have managed to get Oberlin students inspired to come up with creative ways to reduce energy use. Oberlin students have been turning off unused appliances, limiting the use of indoor lighting, studying outdoors, taking short showers and in some (not so rare) cases, simply showering as a group. All students can conveniently track their progress online thanks to a college dashboard that collates and summarises consumption data on each campus building’s water and energy consumption data in real time. The dashboard indicates that the college has, as of April 19th, already saved as much as 10,538kwH of power and 18,767 gallons of water since the onset of the competition on April 3rd.

Aside from the dashboard, students can also get real time feedback on water and energy use through Oberlin’s “energy orbs”. These are circular bulbs fitted in selected dorms and campus buildings that change colour in response to the extent of energy and water use in a building. For instance, the orbs will emit a green colour when electricity consumption is below the typical levels, yellow when it reaches typical levels and red when it has exceeded the typical threshold for a particular building. This technology allows dorm residents to get instant feedback on their building’s consumption patterns and serves as a very visible reminder to adjust consumption behaviour and ensure that students are always aware of whether or not they are using resources at desirable levels.

While they wait in bated anticipation to discover which dorm will walk away with the coveted ice cream party prize, students can look forward to a host of events spanning the full spectrum of pertinent issues in sustainability. These include a film screening on the impact of oil refineries in indigenous communities, a plenary session on food justice by speaker Young Kim, and a student run panel that will explore the intersections between multiculturalism, race and sustainability both at Oberlin and in the wider community.

The Ecolympics complement Oberlin College’s commitment to pushing the frontiers of environmental sustainability, and serve as a testament to the college’s more holistic  vision of full scale sustainability that is outlined much more comprehensively in the Oberlin Project- an ambitious collaboration between the town and the college  to revitalize the local economy, eliminate carbon emissions, restore local agriculture, food supply and forestry, and create a new, sustainable base for economic and community development.

The competition runs until the final week of April, and activities will wind down with the Earth week celebration in Tappan square and the announcement of the winning dorm. Good luck to all the participants!

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My name is Simbarashe Runyowa, (aka Simba) and I am first year student studying Economics and Politics ,and I am from Harare, Zimbabwe. I am also a Bonner Scholar, which means that I really enjoy doing community service! I’m really thrilled to be working at Oberlin Project and am excited about the possibilities it has to create a fully sustainable community in Oberlin. I enjoy writing and social media, so I will mainly be working in communications. In my free time, I like to sing accapella, play intramural basketball, dabble in visual art and write for the Oberlin Review.


Clint Eastworm's mom April 23, 2012

Dear Simbarashe, a sustainability blog post with verve! I also love your blog posts on the Oberlin College website and I hear that you are twittering with Clint Eastworm. Lacking appropriate twitter-language skills myself, I will just say, "From vermicompost to (Earl) grey tea for vegetables not stopped by Marin County regulations at

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