Lights out to illuminate efforts on climate change

By Lauren Kelly

As part of Earth Hour, an annual global event acknowledging the impact of climate change and energy use, the Columbia campus will go dark for one hour on March 28, along with dozens of other buildings and businesses in Chicago. From 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., everyone is encouraged by organizers to turn off their lights in a symbolic gesture to acknowledge environmental responsibility.

“Switching off your light switch is kind of a vote that you are taking, asking your elected representatives to take action,” said Dan Forman, public relations manager of World Wildlife Fund, which organizes

the event.

After the first Earth Hour took place in Sydney, Australia in 2007, the event went global in 2008. Chicago was selected as the United States’ first flagship city to participate. This year, Commonwealth Edison will partner with the city of Chicago as the lead sponsors.

As one of the largest property holders in the South Loop, Columbia’s participation will add to the hundreds of buildings and businesses already committed to going lights out.

Chicago landmarks such as the Sears Tower, John Hancock Building, Wrigley Field, Navy Pier and Millennium Park will join in the event, said Larry Merritt, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Environment.

“Earth Hour brings the environmental message to individuals and what they can do,” Merritt said. “It shows that what they do on an individual level has a cumulative effect.”

All Columbia buildings except for the residence halls will turn off lights and other sources of power, although students living in the dorms are encouraged to participate in the event.

“We’re cutting as much as we can,” said Mike Debish, associate vice president of Facilities and Operations. “Obviously we have to leave corridors and stairways and vestibules, particularly at street level, lit for security and safety purposes, but a couple of our buildings have exterior lighting that will be turned off, specifically 1104 S. Wabash Ave.”

This year, Earth Hour will happen during spring break, so more students will be away from campus than last year.

Last year, “our biggest concern was the safety and security of the residents we have here,” Debish said. “We were assured that District 1, which kind of watches out for us here, was going to be out in force that night just to make sure that graffiti artists and others were not out in big numbers.”

There were no problems, and Debish said he doesn’t expect any trouble this

year either.

World Wildlife Fund anticipates hundreds of millions of people across the world turning off their lights, Forman said. The latest official count reported 934 cities in 80 countries worldwide would be participating.

According to a ComEd report, Earth Hour 2008 resulted in 7 percent electricity savings in Chicago and across their entire northern Illinois service area.

“Earth Hour is not about energy conservation,” Forman said. “It is about getting people involved with climate change. It’s about giving a voice to millions of people around the world and uniting that voice so it’s louder than ever before.”

Besides participating in Earth Hour, the college has taken other actions to be more environmentally responsible.

Columbia’s recycling program has done extensive work over the past 15 years and has gained a major presence on campus, having recycling bins in every building and a dozen student workers.

Also, there is a green roof on the top of the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building, and another will be installed in the new Media Production Center once it is built.

Also, The Interior Architecture Department offers sustainable design as a major.

Columbia has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as a member of the EPA’s Green Power Leadership Club and is still doing more to reduce its impact.

“We are aggressively trying to get occupancy sensors on the majority of the classroom and washroom light switches so those rooms will go dark when they’re not occupied,” Debish said. “Just about everywhere you turn, we’re trying to take another step toward reducing our carbon footprint.”

To find out more information about Earth Hour and climate change, visit or