Every winter, college campuses across the nation find themselves in the midst of a peculiar sort of civil war. Energy challenges, sometimes referred to as Energy Olympics, have gained popularity among college administrators in the last decade as a method of creating awareness for sustainability issues and saving money on colleges’ utility bills. Students recycle, switch off light bulbs, unplug televisions and (perhaps) take shortened showers in a quest to win acclaim (and sometimes prizes) as the school’s greenest dorm.
But a Portland, Oregon-based internet upstart is attempting to redefine the energy challenge altogether. The software, called Byngo, is a web-based replacement for what many school administrators keep in spreadsheets and binders. But the company says it wants to do more than simplify existing energy challenges.
“Our goal is to transform what has traditionally been a top-down enterprise into something more collaborative—something that students can drive themselves,” says Byngo’s Casey Jarman. The year-old company, which begins beta tests on eight U.S. college campuses in February, has built software that mixes the checklist-style activities at the core of most existing energy challenges (“turn off a light right now”) with activities aimed at getting students to challenge and encourage one another (including the aforementioned shortest shower challenge).
On the Bard campus in Red Hook, Sustainability Manager Laurie Husted sees Byngo as a tool that could drive engagement to new heights. “Managing a competition takes time – to be able to try out a third party tool that tracks results, engages and inspires is something we are very happy to beta test,” Husted says. “We already participate in the Recyclemania contest, now we’re ready to pull off a successful energy challenge.”
“We think we’ve built something really unique with this set of activities,” Jarman adds. “But the fun part is going to be turning our tools over to the masses.” That, Jarman says, is where Byngo hopes to become something of a revolutionary tool—and one Byngo hopes college campuses will find valuable enough to pay for. The company’s real goal is to let administrators—and even students—build their own energy challenges from the ground-up. Those challenges could take the form of campus-wide get-togethers, school trivia or student-versus-student grudge matches. The possibilities extend beyond the realm of sustainability. Taken together, Byngo hopes that the endless opportunities for customization will be enough to transform the energy challenge from something that happens in February to something that campuses participate in year-round.
“Giving people activities to do for a month every year is great,” Jarman says. “But we think that if you give people the tools to create their own challenges, it has the potential to engage them year-round. Long-term, we’re not really interested in pushing our agenda on Byngo users. We want Byngo users to be mad scientists—we want them to show us what this software can do.”
Bard’s energy challenge begins in February. Interested students can join at bard.byngo.com