Turning off lights and recycling paper for printing. These simple steps toward greater sustainability at Mays were part of the presentation that won the Students in Free Enterprise regional championship in April, propelling the Mays student chapter of SIFE to the national competition held in Minneapolis May 11-13.

Members of the Mays chapter of Students in Free Enterprise
Members of the Mays chapter of Students in Free Enterprise

The Mays chapter’s team project for the year focused on sustainability in the Wehner Building, tying neatly into SIFE’s mission “To bring together the top leaders of today and tomorrow to create a better, more sustainable world through the positive power of business.”

Echoing a Texas A&M University-wide effort to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent, the Mays chapter encouraged faculty, staff, and students to reduce, reuse, and recycle. They called the effort the Wehner Environmental Sustainability Challenge. When the team presented their “Save Wehner” project at the regional competition, the judges were impressed by the Mays students deviating from the norm and focusing their efforts on an academic building instead of a residence hall.

Step one of “Save, Wehner” involved distribution of an advocate form, which asked faculty and staff to commit to actions such as turning off equipment and lights when not in use, replacing disposable drinking containers with refillable ones, and avoiding unnecessary printing.

A week after distributing the forms, SIFE members and sponsors, working with the university office of sustainability, conducted a room-by-room energy audit of the building, noting lights and equipment left on over the weekend. They found lights on in 21 empty offices, 153 computers and 149 printers running needlessly, and a number of small appliances draining energy in standby mode. The team called attention to these areas of waste, and occasionally updated the faculty and staff on weekly energy consumption. Slowly, they did see the building energy consumption numbers decrease.

Mays SIFE officer Kaitlyn Rice ’11 says if everyone in Wehner participated in the SIFE initiative, the university could save approximately $156,000 per year. To date, the initiative in Wehner has saved $1,400 in energy costs.

Judges paid extra attention to the Mays SIFE project as it was entirely student-led. At Mays, Cindy Billington, associate director of Graduate Business Careers Services, is the team’s sponsor, but she asserts that students do all of the work and rely on her only for guidance and resources. “So much of [SIFE] is that they choose to do this,” Billington says, discussing the organization’s appeal to business. “The judges like to see that level of commitment from students.”

Judges weren’t the only ones interested in the Mays students’ project: the effort has caught the eye of the university’s office of sustainability, as well. Their program has the potential to become campus-wide in upcoming semesters.

Another important audience to take notice of the SIFE team’s effort was potential employers. “After [the competition], we had vice presidents approach our students and ask to contact them about employment opportunities,” said Billington. She notes that some companies (most noticeably Kraft) have indicated they prefer to hire SIFE students exclusively, based on their commitment to sustainability and community enhancement.

The Mays SIFE team has won the regional championship and moved on to nationals seven of the past nine years. In previous years, their projects have involved mentoring inmates with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program; encouraging children from area elementary schools to consider college through a day-long visit event; and financial counseling for college students.