Off the top of his head, Austin Bream (C, W '17) can tell you how energy is managed at Penn. “We have a really complicated energy management system,” he explains. “It’s something, something like 285,000 data points around campus, controlled centrally by an algorithm that determines at any one point how Penn can adjust or reduce energy usage.”
After three years of working between administration and student groups at Penn to promote sustainability, Austin is pretty well–versed in the ins and outs of the subject on campus. He’s been involved in a range of environmental groups, and is currently co–chair of Environ. He’s also a sustainability intern at Green Campus Partnership, and right now, he’s focused on promoting the annual Power Down Challenge. If you’ve ever looked up at the overhead banners on Locust Walk, then you’ve definitely heard of it. Spearheaded by Green Campus Partnership, the initiative seeks to encourage all members of the Penn community to reduce their energy consumption this month. On February 22nd, there will be a campus–wide Energy Reduction challenge, which last year saw a reduction of 5.8 percent. These savings were translated into a donation of $5,800 to the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, in order to support Climate Action Research Grants. This year, Austin is hoping that GCP will be able to make an even bigger donation.
Tabeen Hossain (C '17) is peripherally involved with Green Campus Partnership––meaning she just “knows everyone in it. Everyone kind of knows each other [within the Penn environmental groups],” she explains. Currently, she’s co–director of Penn Environmental Group (PEG) and a representative for Student Sustainability Association at Penn (SSAP). A lot of her projects, however, happen in her hall at Gregory, where she is a Resident Advisor. She’s planned zero waste challenges, pumpkin carving events where everything gets composted and ‘Bring Your Own Mug’ study breaks, with a special twist in February: “If it’s Power Down, we’re gonna do this [BYOM] in the dark!” she says.
Both Tabeen and Austin know how important it is to communicate sustainability effectively to a community that is often overwhelmed with events and information. Tabeen lists events and potential projects, including making a bicycle blender for smoothie nights at Gregory––“how many students does it take to build a bicycle blender, anyway?” Although she has a lot of ambitious ideas, she insists that sustainability at a basic level really isn’t about doing anything drastic. “It’s about little things, like hey, use the bright colors [laundry setting] because of the amount of energy you save on heating the water."
Then there are issues that are a little more difficult to tackle on a college campus. “One thing I’ve been somewhat disappointed by is the trade–off between campus security and comfort and sustainability,” explains Austin. “People always comment to us, how come they don’t turn off the lights in all these buildings? And there is a concern that you want your campus lit up at night because people feel safer, but obviously there’s a negative side to that.”
Despite this, Austin insists that Penn’s bureaucracy can be a force for good in promoting sustainability. In fact, he describes this as his main area of interest––“where sustainability and business meet.” Many within the environmental community at Penn feel similarly that their work lies somewhere between activism and administration. This month, Tabeen is focusing all her efforts on the Power Down Challenge in her capacity as RA. “Right now I’m just always slamming down light switches, cause like—Power Down!”