Brown Unplugged: Do it in the Dark is an annual dorm energy competition at Brown University. In the competition, which started in 2013, 14 dorms compete to see who can reduce their energy consumption the most. Competing dorms can see their real-time energy use at buildingdashboard.net/brown.
The impact that Brown Unplugged has on energy consumption at Brown is small compared to the school’s immense overall energy use. However, the competition’s impact is large enough to show that individual behavioral changes make a significant difference when analyzed at the community level. In the 2015 competition, for example, 893 participating students came together to save 23,000 kWhs of energy, preventing 11 metric tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere and saving the school almost $3,000. Further, the impact of Brown Unplugged reaches beyond those who directly participated in the competition. It also includes a massive and highly accessible educational campaign that raises awareness about how to reduce one’s individual energy consumption on campus.
Prior to the competition, Brown EcoReps determine two-week baseline energy usage. The competition was advertised widely through “Do it in the Dark” stickers, EcoReps dorm storming, and social media. Participants competed for cool prizes and eco-friendly bragging rights. All large dorms at Brown have electronic meters that automatically upload their readings to the Brown Building Dashboard website. Winners were thus determined by comparing energy usage during the two-week competition to baseline measurements.
MISTAKES & LESSONS LEARNED
Brown Unplugged could be improved by better follow-up. The goal of Brown Unplugged is to reinforce energy-saving behaviors. Without follow-up, it is impossible to know whether its impact extends beyond the two-week competition. Further, although the slogan “Do it in the Dark” is catchy and popular, it may distract from the overall message of energy conservation.
In the future, messaging for Brown Unplugged should focus on increasing the amount of energy saved by each participant, not simply on increasing the number of participants. For greater impact, training for volunteers and dorm captains should be more extensive. Finally, the Brown Unplugged organizers should seek official and direct support from the university.