No one can ever question the loyalty of our building managers at Harvard. Over the winter holiday, Mike Paterno, Building Manager for Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB), was on campus to check on his building and noticed that a number of labs had numerous lights on, despite being empty. From this, he was inspired to find a way to make labs aware of their light usage and our "Turn Out the Lights Competition" was born.


For the competition, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Green Program and the Building Managers chose to target four of the largest labs at CCB: Myers, Shair, Jacobsen and Nocera. With the consent of their lab administrators, the team tracked how often their lights were turned on or off using data loggers and calculated a baseline percentage of time that lights were on.

The baselines spanned from one lab that had its lights on 97% of the time to another that used its lights 76% of the two week period. However, all of the labs had great potential for savings, with approximately 800 total light fixtures across the four labs, using $20,000 a year in electricity.

The competition lasted for three weeks. The labs were informed of the competition at lab meetings and had the opportunity to see graphs of their lighting consumption before the competition began—giving them the chance to see which spaces had the most opportunity for improvement. In an attempt to make it fair across the variety of baseline light uses, the competition was based on percentage of improvement. At the beginning of the week, each lab received an update on their usage and improvement, as well as graphs of their lighting usage in each space. Knowing the love graduate students have for free food, we incentivized the labs with the promise of a catered breakfast for the winning lab.


The results were incredible—the labs showed massive improvements immediately. Across the board, the average improvement was 35.3%, with the Nocera Lab taking the lead with a 54.2% improvement and the lowest overall lighting use at 44.7%.

Lab member Andrew Maher attributes the Nocera Lab’s success to the competitive spirit of the lab: “Consistently switching off the lights in the lab took some getting used to, but the contest allowed us to tap into our competitive nature and make a collective effort to change our habits.”

Lab member Dan Graham, however, thinks they had a secret weapon: “It really was a team effort, but if you ask me, Mike Huynh won it for us. He is consistently the last person to leave the lab at night, and he took it upon himself to make sure that all the lights were turned off before he left.”  Mike himself, though, is quick to deflect credit, "it wasn’t that hard—you just turn the lights off when you leave the room."

Regardless of who is taking the credit for it, the results can have a huge impact. If all four labs can maintain their light usage reduction, then the electricity savings in these labs alone would amount to 59,800 kWh annually, or over $7,000 a year saved. Even better—this competition is easily replicable, and can be used to further incentivize more labs at Harvard.