Part competition, part awareness campaign, Penn’s annual Power Down Challenge needs a high level of communications to reach the all corners of campus. The most “serious” competitive spirit comes from Penn’s College Houses, where sustainability-aware students make sure their neighbors know to turn lights off, shut electronics down, and conserve energy wherever possible. Much of the messaging, artwork and outreach for Power Down Challenge is created by a small team of student interns working with the sustainability team in Facilities & Real Estate Services.
The 2014 Power Down Challenge team of Danielle Gambogi, Berenice Leung , and Emily Wei created graphics, designed posters, hung up signs and banners, visited College Houses, tweeted and posted to Facebook to raise the visibility of the campaign. In this interview, this exceptional trio of students was asked for their thoughts about working on a campus-wide awareness campaign, and their own contributions to the practice of environmental sustainability.
Q: What does practicing environmental sustainability mean to you personally?
A: Berenice -- Environmental sustainability is not a practice that decreases over time; but, rather, a lifestyle. Respecting the environment and its resources is a concept that complements the values of love and thankfulness that I have embraced since a young age.
A: Danielle -- Environmental sustainability means realizing that I am part of something bigger than myself. Sometimes this is hard to remember in everyday life, but the choices we make individually amount to a collective effort to care for the planet in a meaningful and sustained way.
Q: Did your concept of the Power Down Challenge change during the period of time you were working on the campaign?
A: Emily -- As a resident and Eco-Rep of Riepe College House last year, I had a very different perspective of the Power Down Challenge than I do now. At the time, I was a little disillusioned by the way residents would be indifferent, even though the Eco-Reps would push so hard to have residents try to change their behavior. This year, seeing how the Power Down Challenge works from the management perspective has been inspiring. The administration, the staff, and students put in so much effort into this competition, especially seeing everything all the Eco-Reps are doing in terms of messaging and outreach to their residents is very exciting. The Power Down Challenge is not about just distributing knowledge and “best practices” anymore, it’s about raising awareness through getting people excited and really kindling that competitive spirit.
A: Danielle -- [Working on the Challenge] made me realize first hand that getting people to care about something that’s important to me isn’t as simple as providing convincing arguments. Behavioral modification is arguably one of the most difficult ways to effect change, and the Power Down Challenge seeks to do exactly that. Especially at Penn, where there are always new projects and exciting opportunities, it can be especially difficult to capture people’s attention on an issue like energy conservation.
Q: Is the Power Down Challenge something worthwhile for Penn to organize?
A: Emily -- In our day and age, energy and power is so ubiquitous that people many people at Penn take it for granted− they don’t realize that power comes from somewhere, and that there is a limited amount available from non-renewable resources. Being a focused challenge on reducing energy consumption, the Power Down Challenge is able to channel the otherwise scattered information and create a greater impact in our Penn community.
A: Berenice -- The Power Down Challenge may be a competition for members of the Penn community, but it spreads an important message of sustainable, conscious living that our community members can take beyond campus and spread to many more people.
Q: As a student at Penn, share your thoughts on the university’s overall efforts towards environmental sustainability.
A: Berenice -- Penn continually makes great strides in the push for environmental sustainability. Yet…We have room to improve. For example, I would like to see more efforts channeling towards low-to-no-waste meals—both the food itself and the food’s packaging… I believe that Penn’s urban environment is the perfect motivational blend of convenience and challenge in terms of addressing environmental sustainability.
A: Emily -- Since working with Penn’s sustainability team this summer, I believe that Penn has done and is still doing a wonderful job working on environmental sustainability. Penn’s Sustainability Office is very fortunate to be located in Facilities & Real Estate Services, meaning that it has the sources to pull off huge campaigns and initiatives on campus, while the overall thought and effort of staff in all departments towards building a more sustainable campus− literally through urban design, and figuratively through education of students− is quite exciting.
Learn more about each of our sustainability interns  on the Green Campus Partnership website.