Campus & Community

Energy-saving programs ask Harvard to go ‘cold turkey’

4 min read

Turn off your computers for Thanksgiving

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and Harvard’s Longwood campus are squaring off in an energy-saving duel that asks faculty, staff, and graduate students to “Go Cold Turkey” over Thanksgiving weekend.

The competition, which runs from Nov. 17 to 26, is seeking online pledges to turn off monitors, computers, printers, and other energy-consuming devices over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday. Organizers hope the lessons learned, however, extend far beyond Thanksgiving and help reduce energy consumption on campus into the future.

“We want people to switch off before they leave campus,” said Antje Danielson, director of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Computer Energy Reduction Program. “Hopefully, 20 percent will change their behavior [permanently]. I’d like them all to, because we really have very wasteful behavior.”

Changing a 24/7 power demand

Danielson said about one in five users keeps their computer on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and uses no power management software at all. Power management software puts computers to “sleep” automatically after a certain period of idleness but doesn’t shut the machines off completely.

Another 60 percent, Danielson said, use power management software, but don’t turn their computers off when they leave the office for the day. Some shut down the monitor, but not the computer itself, keeping the processor and cooling fans running all night.

The remaining 20 percent use power management software and shut down their computer and monitor at night, over weekends, and during long absences from the office. It’s that group of people the contest is seeking to enlarge.

For more information on the Go Cold Turkey Pledge, visit the Web site:

Danielson said education may make a difference and that’s where the competition comes in. She said there are two myths people cite when asked why they don’t shut their computers off. One is that it’s better for computers to be on all the time. The second is that turning a computer on and off takes more energy than just leaving it on. Both are false, she said.

While lower electricity consumption translates to lower electric bills, Danielson said saving money isn’t the main point of Go Cold Turkey.

“The prime focus is not to save FAS money,” Danielson said. “FAS is committed to save greenhouse gases and to change our wasteful behavior.”

Despite those lofty aims, the financial savings can be considerable. One desktop left on round-the-clock will chug-a-lug $110 worth of electricity annually, enough to generate 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide. Environmentalists often refer to energy savings projects in terms of carbon dioxide saved because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Increased production of greenhouse gases by humans over the last century have been blamed for global warming.

A similar competition run last year in the undergraduate houses saved an estimated $8,500 in electricity, or the equivalent of 120,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. That would be the same as planting 13.5 acres of trees, which naturally remove the gas from the atmosphere, or taking nine cars off the road. Through all its efforts, including Go Cold Turkey, the Computer Energy Reduction Program saved an estimated $70,000 in the undergraduate dormitories last year.

After targeting undergraduates last year, Danielson said this year’s target is faculty, staff, and graduate students, who together make up about half of FAS’s 13,000 computer users.

Wind power for Shattuck House

Over at the Longwood Campus, Harvard Medical School, Dental School, and the School of Public Health (SPH) are teaming up in the challenge against FAS. Jessica Woolliams, the Longwood Coordinator for the Harvard Green Campus Initiative, said the contest reminds people that there are things individuals can do that, collectively, can have a big impact.

To spur participation, the School of Public Health administration is sweetening the pot a bit. SPH has pledged that if half of the residents living in Shattuck International House take the Go Cold Turkey pledge, the School will use the projected electricity savings to buy half of Shattuck’s energy through renewable energy certificates. The certificates, also called Tradable Renewable Certificates, or “green tags,” will certify that the energy purchased with them comes from renewable sources, in this case from wind power.

“What international research shows is that we in industrialized nations need to use less energy and, of the energy we use, we need to start using lower-carbon energy [such as wind power],” Woolliams said. “The Go Cold Turkey competition is fun and it reminds us that there are little things that we can each do to make a difference.”