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Aisha Tejani (L) and Christine Lin: students are hungry for more information - photo by Martin Dee
Aisha Tejani (L) and Christine Lin: students are hungry for more information - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 4 | Apr. 3, 2008

Sauder Students Market Sustainability to the Facebook Generation

By Basil Waugh

Facebook can help you stay in touch with friends, but can it help you reduce energy consumption?

That’s the thrust of a UBC marketing project that has caught the attention of B.C. Hydro.

“We found that many students lack pretty basic awareness around saving electricity,” says Aisha Tejani, who recently placed second in a BC Hydro Power Smart Innovation Challenge along with fellow UBC students Sara Fan, Cici Gu, Christine Lin. “And social networking websites can play a role in filling that gap.”

Tejani and her teammates’ winning submission -- which came with a $3,000 prize -- started as a Sauder School of Business applied marketing project in one of more than 300 courses at UBC with sustainability-related content.

Their assignment? To pitch BC Hydro on a marketing plan that uses new technologies and other innovative practices to help universities and colleges reduce energy consumption. The B.C. government has mandated the province to be energy self-sufficient by 2016, so crown corporations are jumping on the conservation bandwagon.

To collect data, the group surveyed nearly 100 students on their conservation awareness and online habits through focus groups and random surveys. The results were surprising, says Tejani, who moonlights as a hip-hop deejay.

Although UBC has been consistently recognized as a leader in campus sustainability -- it is the first and only Canadian university to win the World Wildlife Foundation’s Green Campus award -- the team found that energy conservation knowledge was relatively low among undergrads.

“Students know about switching off lights, computers and monitors, but it really drops off after that,” said Tejani, who received advice from the staff at UBC’s Sustainability Office before creating the focus groups.

According to their research, 70 per cent of students are unaware that leaving an appliance such as an unused cell phone charger plugged into a wall consumes energy. Sixty per cent were unaware of the benefits of energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs).

“The students we spoke to were hungry for more information, but said they had a limited time and attention to absorb messages,” she said.

After crunching the data, the team recommended that B.C. Hydro develop an application that posts “daily conservation tips” on Facebook and UBC’s Web Course Tools (WebCT) website, where students download assignments and other class content. They recommended selling CFLs and other energy-efficient household items in booths in UBC’s Student Union Building.

“Students said they visit Facebook and WebCT everyday, so they present a great opportunity to get sustainability messages out to students,” she says.

BC Hydro agreed. “All the teams developed innovative ideas that contribute to our goal of making B.C. a world leader in energy conservation,” said Gail McBride, BC Hydro’s Manager of Conservation Innovation. “The solutions proposed can help build and support the momentum we need to change behaviours and help customers take responsibility for their energy use.”

 The provincial energy provider also liked the team’s proposed residence energy-conservation contest, in which UBC’s 8,000 students in campus housing compete to see who can most reduce their room’s energy consumption. “They thought it was a great way to form good habits early, like turning off power bars and using CFLs,” says Tejani.

Tejani, who graduates this May, calls the project one of the highlights of her education. “It was just a great project; I learned a lot,” she says. “The research, the marketing plan, the presentation to BC Hydro -- it was all great experience.”

“Most importantly, it really improved my awareness on energy issues and got me excited about sustainability,” adds Tejani, who for another class project is working to reduce energy consumption in Henry Angus, home of UBC’s Sauder School of Business.

For more information, visit www.sustain.ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 03-Apr-2008

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