Earth Hour Highlighted Energy Conservation at the University of Virginia

March 31, 2009 — A little bit of darkness can save a lot of energy.

The University of Virginia participated in Earth Hour, a global event intended to create awareness of energy use and conservation, by turning off nonessential lights and electronics Saturday night.

"We achieved a savings of more than 1,000 kilowatt hours," said Cheryl L. Gomez, director of utilities for the University. "That reduced carbon emissions by about 1,200 pounds."

Earth Hour, which began in 2007, is an exercise in decreasing nonessential electrical use. Participants in more than 1,500 cities and towns across 80 countries extinguished their lights from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. in a global gesture of environmental concern. Some lights did remain on for safety and security reasons.

"Earth Hour was a tremendous and measurable success," said Armando J. de León, sustainability programs manager with Facilities Management.

Gomez and de León said the University saved about $65 during Earth Hour, a savings that could be expanded to about $500,000 a year if people made efforts to save that much electricity every hour. Gomez sees that as an incentive.

"I hope people take from this experience the understanding that it is not hard to turn things off when you leave the office at the end of the day," Gomez said. "And when they get home, turn off lights when they are not in use. Little things really do add up."

Even small decisions have financial implications.

"People should understand that when they flip on a light switch, they are making a purchase," de León said.

Events such as Earth Hour help keep people aware of the environment, according to Andrew J. Greene, sustainability planner with the Office of the University Architect.

"Outreach and education are a key component of sustainability efforts," Greene said.

On Saturday night at the University, lights were switched off in several buildings, including Campbell Hall, home of the School of Architecture.

"I had a bone-chilling experience at Campbell Hall," said Lindsey L. Daniels, sustainability outreach coordinator with Facilities Management, who was outside the building when Earth Hour started. "I sat alone and watched the lights in the studio go off one by one. It was incredible."

Daniels walked around Grounds and was very impressed with the University's participation.

"The president's house on Carr's Hill was pitch black," she said.

Leonard Sandridge, the University's executive vice president and chief operating officer, e-mailed University employees last week encouraging them to turn off nonessential lights and electronics before leaving Friday afternoon.

"The University's participation in Earth Hour is a reflection of our commitment to sustainability and will help us to focus on the issues that threaten the future of our environment," Sandridge wrote. "It's a small gesture by each individual, but large when taken collectively by citizens around the world."

Daniels led a team of volunteers around Grounds on Friday visiting offices, reminding people to shut down their lights and equipment when they left the building Friday afternoon. She said almost everyone was very receptive to the message.

The impact of Earth Hour was visible on the Lawn as well.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm for Earth Hour among the pavilion residents," said Ida Lee Wootten, director of community relations. "The pavilions were incredibly dark.   There were lots of lights on in the Academical Village ¬ overhead lights and lights in the side stairwells ¬ but, overall, the Lawn area was noticeably darker."

— By Matt Kelly