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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

More commitment needed to turn off lights

Published: November 20, 2014
Section: Opinions

One of the unfortunate necessities of winter in the Northeast is the greater reliance on energy. Whether that energy derives from renewable resources like wind or solar power or from the more commonly used fossil fuels, there will always be greater dependence on energy during the winter than in the summer. Needing to heat buildings to make them habitable during frigid months, relying on cars to travel through the frost instead of being able to walk or bike as during the summer and using electricity to light up homes and watch TV as we prolong our cabin fever all contribute to increased energy demands.

And as the nights get longer and longer and darkness falls upon campus earlier and earlier, we inevitably use more electricity, keeping lights on for longer periods of time, as well. Yet at Brandeis, the overuse of lights isn’t exclusive to just the winter months, when we have to flip on the lights earlier in the day. Throughout the year, lights can be seen left on throughout campus buildings and offices when there is no one occupying the space. This act goes against the school’s general sustainability initiative, as well as those little stickers seen at some light switches reminding people to turn off the lights when they leave a room.

Those stickers are actually a very helpful reminder when leaving a classroom or hallway to turn off the lights. I find myself constantly being reminded that it’s best for the environment to turn off the lights as I leave the room. “Would I turn you on and then walk out?!” a sticker on The Brandeis Hoot’s office door asks me. Yet the problem in many common spaces is that there are no actual light switches to put the sticker next to in the first place, or the space is just too large to be able to find the switch as you leave. And these are the spaces that use the most power and leave the biggest impression on the idea that lights are being left on.

Take the Mandel Atrium for example. The lights stay on until very late at night in both the atrium and the rest of the building as well, long after classes have ended and professors and staff have left for the day. And the LED bars that hang from the ceiling in the Atrium stay on for the same amount of time even though there’s no one around to admire them. Some of the bars have gone out and need to be replaced, probably because they’re left on too long to begin with. Additional problems arise with having to replace them and other lights. I’m sure LED bars are not the same price as your traditional 40-watt bulb you pick up at Home Depot. And with a good 30-foot distance between the floor and the bars, eventually replacing them will be even more of a hassle.

Seemingly every other building around campus stays lit late into the night. While there are probably safety reasons as to why lights within buildings are left on in case someone goes wandering around inside alone. Yet people shouldn’t be allowed in buildings past the hours they’re in use to begin with. If they need to get in, then they should be able to use their campus card to gain access, which is why the school went through the trouble of updating the locks on all the buildings around campus, so people who need access to a building can get it. And if the doors are locked already, then there is absolutely no reason why the lights would need to be on for a building that isn’t serving any function except to waste energy.

In order to actually accomplish this mission, there are timers and motion sensors in existence that can be extremely effective in making sure the lights are kept off in buildings. Some of the bathrooms on campus already have these sensors that turn on the lights as soon as someone walks in and turns them back off after a period of time. But these can be helpful in other locales around campus besides the bathrooms, and should be looked into as a viable option to make sure the school isn’t using any more energy than it needs to. And timers could be set that make sure all of the lights are off in the less popular buildings by midnight, or any other arbitrary time.

Buildings like the library and the SCC are actually inhabited late into the night, so leaving the lights on there is useful, but not so much in Mandel or the science complex. And the problem then moves on to residence halls as well, where hallway lights are left on long past everyone has gone to bed. The costs for running the lights and then replacing the bulbs after they have gone dead just keep adding up.

At the round-table discussion with administrators held by the Student Union a few weeks ago, Vice President of Operations Jim Gray had to answer to student concerns on this very issue. He gave a run-of-the-mill response to the problem of lights being left on in unoccupied buildings, stating that he might look into a “turn off the lights” campaign. But people already know how to turn off the lights. But they have no control over when the lights get turned off in the Mandel Atrium or the science complex, and that is really where the issue resides.

I come from a semi-rural area of New Jersey, and I thoroughly enjoy being able to see the stars on a clear night. I can’t say that in Waltham, however, partially due to the light pollution the campus emits by leaving the lights on in each building. While our proximity to Boston and the density of the area probably won’t let the stars shine anytime soon even if we are able to turn off the lights, but we can save a great amount of money in the process. So if not for the stars, let’s do it for the dollar bills and give the university one less excuse to fall back on when they predictably raise tuition for next year.