Spotlight: University of Minnesota

Anyone who knows anything about green movements, legislation, and popularization knows that the concept of framing is perhaps one of the most highly used tactics used by green activists and politicians to garner support for environmentalist causes. Basically, framing is the act of taking an issue and highlighting a more specific aspect of that issue to strike the interest and sympathy of supporters who might otherwise not have cared. Two of the most popular environmental frames are public health- based claims and economic claims. A public health- based claim hypothesizes that a pollutant or environmental hazard poses a legitimate and broad-based public health concern, whereas an economic claim supports the position that sustainable living and technology will create a new American economy, will thwart the threat of foreign oil, and will generally be cheaper for the average citizen.

The students at the University of Minnesota have taken up the latter frame as a base for their green campus initiatives, which they hope will save 5% (or $2.5 million) on their school’s energy costs by the ed of the 2010 fiscal year. Broad-based savings are coming from “recomissioning buildings, and optimizing heating systems and timing lights,” yet the focus of students’ efforts is targeted toward a “change of culture” among community members. Since the spring of 2009, the Energy Efficiency Student Alliance has supported the Power Police, “the action arm” of EESA, members of whom visit offices during pre-planned “Building Blitzes”, installing energy-saving devices, and spreading knowledge about the small lifestyle changes that can save the U of M money. The Power Police are especially concerned with what Rob Bauer, co-founder of the EESA, called “phantom” or “vampire” power, or the power that electronics consume when they are turned off but left plugged in (which allows small yet significant amounts of energy to essentially leak into powered devices, which is wasted because they are not in use). At the end of a Blitz, Police can actually measure how much energy has been saved.

The EESA has proven to be a remarkably effective and salient group on campus. New Police are trained every day as volunteers, the coalition continues to grow with the newfound support from EcoWatch (a group focused on environmental outreach), and even uninvolved students appear to be seeking knowledge and accepting responsibility across the U of M campus. Said Bauer, “One of the strengths of the coalition is how it doesn’t exist to supplant what student groups are already doing. Its about bringing together people who are passionate about energy use and the issues that surround that.”

Go U of M! Comment below!

by M. Molendyke

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