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Residence program seeks to change how students think about energy use and conservation

When it comes to conserving energy, Stuart Chan believes that changing how people think is just as important as lowering the thermostat or installing better windows. Chan supervises U of T’s Rewire program, which aims to decrease energy consumption in residences and offices on campus by encouraging people to change their behaviour.

Conceived in 2004 by two Trinity College students, Rewire is now operating in most residences on campus. In its second year of operation, it generated energy savings of about $22,000.

The program encourages students to turn off unused lights, take shorter, cooler showers, hang their clothes to dry and turn off computers when not in use. It also stresses the importance of unplugging electronics and appliances when not in use, to reduce “phantom load,” the small but significant amount of electricity used by electronics even when they’re turned off. “We tell people that everybody’s actions are significant: there are no insignificant contributions,” says Chan. “You could say we’re trying to build social norms.”

Rewire’s surveys revealed that many people thought energy conservation was important, but didn’t act on their beliefs — perhaps thinking that their peers wouldn’t expect them to. To bolster their resolve, Chan and his team use posters, stickers and emails in conjunction with something more powerful — personal influence. Approximately 60 student volunteers who work for Rewire promote discussion about energy conservation in residence.

In future, Chan would like to implement Rewire in other buildings on campus. While he believes that retrofits to some of the buildings are in order, behavioural changes are also integral. The ultimate goal, says Chan, is to spark a new way of thinking, so people begin to consider efficiency and energy conservation even when they aren’t prompted to.

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