Friday Night Lights reduces costs, carbon use

Juniors Miranda (Mandi) Forsythe and Mitchell Peebles have a standing date for Friday evenings, but it’s nothing romantic or even for dinner. Instead, the two are committed to helping make sure BGSU is not wasting energy or increasing its carbon footprint by leaving lights on in empty classrooms.

On some campuses, Friday Night Lights means football, but at BGSU it’s a dedicated team of student volunteers who take on the job of shutting off lights in classrooms across campus. Friday Night Lights was begun in 2010 by alumnus Dustin Sabo (who has recently returned to his alma mater as assistant director of admissions), and to date has saved the University more than $77,500. Today, Forsythe and Peebles are the co-coordinators of the weekly effort.

Meeting on the second floor of the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Fridays at 6:30, teams of volunteers fan out across campus to switch off the lights in academic building rooms without motion detectors or automatic controls. Over the years, this simple act has not only saved money but also raised campus awareness of the impact that basic, simple acts of personal responsibility can make in reducing the University’s carbon footprint and protecting the environment.

“Most people recognize that keeping lights on wastes money, but what many aren’t aware of is that purchased electricity is also our biggest share of emissions,” said Dr. Nicholas Hennessy, campus sustainability coordinator. “Coal-fired plants produce most of the electricity we consume.”

The light-hearted, social aspect of the evening makes it popular, and having many participants makes for quick work.

“It’s a big group and it’s fun,” Forsythe said. “Even last year when Halloween fell on a Friday and we didn’t expect many volunteers, we had a big group. Everyone also likes the new reflective vests we’ve added this year.”

Volunteers come from all disciplines. Forsythe, from Mason, Ohio, is an inclusive early childhood education major; Peebles, from Wauseon, Ohio, majors in political science. Forsythe has been involved all her three years at BGSU, becoming a coordinator last year. Now in his second year with Friday Night Lights, Peebles became co-coordinator this fall.

Both coordinators are members of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity whose other members also frequently are there. Individuals, student organizations, classes and residence hall teams have all participated in the effort, which played a role in BGSU’s inclusion in the 2013 Princeton Review Guide to 332 Green Colleges.

By recording their activities, the students have enabled BGSU to calculate the energy savings — a very satisfying thing to see and another step toward BGSU’s becoming a carbon-neutral campus — a pledge signed by President Mary Ellen Mazey in joining the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

The president recently met with the team as they were preparing to set out across campus. Mazey related how she had taught environmental studies classes and applauded their spirit and initiative.

“My office provides guidance, calculates savings, and advises them, but this is really a student-led project,” Hennessy said. “It’s also in keeping with the Accenture team report calling for us to make a strong, concerted, University-wide effort to reduce utility costs. We need to conserve to be a more efficient university that doesn’t waste money.”

When Sabo began the project, he created detailed maps of University buildings and their lights, which permitted the calculation of the energy savings. Since then, some of the original buildings have been torn down or replaced with more efficient facilities, while more sites, such as Olscamp Hall, have been outfitted with motion sensors.

“We’re working on remapping the campus,” Peebles said. Since the ultimate object of the Friday Night Lights team is to become obsolete, “we’re looking at what else this group can be doing,” Forsythe said. It has already become more green by going paperless with its reports, using a Google doc instead of printing the former 15 pages each week.

“Friday Night Lights is one of the ways we try to make a positive influence on people’s behavior,” Hennessy said.