This past Friday, I spent the beginning of my evening running around the quad with a group of other students who are passionate about sustainability, turning lights off in the different buildings that lights had been left on in. The event I attended was an SSC funded project, Illini Light Out.

When attending the event, one’s mission is to meet up with other energy-conscious Illinois students at 5:30 p.m. in the Foreign Language Building lobby to get split into super-cool light-flipping teams. Then, run around buildings on the Illinois Main Quad counting all the lights left on in classrooms, labs and lounges. Once they’ve counted all the lights, turn them off. Finally return to the starting point to turn in your clipboard and pat yourself on the back for being such a good earth citizen and pizza is likely to be there when you return.

I would like to think of myself as a pretty conscious community member when it comes to sustainability, but this event really opened my eyes up to not only how many lights there are and how many get left on for no reason, but how much energy  is wasted because of that. In addition to energy conservation, another key element of this project is the education competent; it is seeking to create a culture where it is normal to turn off lights when they are not in use because it is simply the right thing to do.

 

After the event, I had the pleasure of speaking with Alex Dzurick, who is the creator of Illini Lights Out. I decided to ask him a few questions about the project and sustainability in general.

Why are you interested in sustainability/ what does sustainability mean to you?

I have always been passionate about interdisciplinary work and trying to break down the barriers between different fields of study. For me, sustainability is one way to bring STEM fields into a conversation with sociology, economics, education, etc., in order to shape a more livable world for now and for the future.

How did you come up with the idea for this project?

As a member of the university’s Energy Conservation and Building Standards SWATeam, I’m responsible for figuring out ways to help engage the campus in thinking about saving energy. If you walk around campus, you’ll often notice lots of lights on when they don’t need to be, so as a team we decided we could easily engage students in helping get these lights off. We had heard of similar projects at other universities, so we knew we had a good thing to replicate here.

As the Education Working Chair, why do you think education is so important to sustainability efforts? 

Being sustainable isn’t just about installing new technologies like solar, but also about changing our habits. The best way to get people to change is to give them information and an opportunity to practice in a low-stakes way. Education projects, like Illini Lights Out, are a way to bring people into sustainability and learn those lifelong habits.