The University of St Andrews’ sustainability efforts have been given a boost in recent weeks thanks to the introduction of Switched. The student-run energy initiative, which launched 20 March, encourages local businesses to switch off non-essential lights for a single hour at mid-day every Saturday.
If successful, the scheme may not have a significant impact on actual energy usage — most modern lights are relatively energy efficient compared to other appliances. The team behind Switched, however, considers the unlit hour to be a symbolic victory.
“Any contribution will make a difference,” Robert Cooper, a Switched team member, explained. “One light, two lights, three lights. It’s the noticeable change in behaviour that will be the powerful message to the local community, students, and tourists.”
The small team behind Switched has attracted support from major community groups in St Andrews, including both Transition and the St Andrews Town Centre Business Improvement District.
Lindsey Mackay, the University’s sustainability intern, said that she is “excited to see how Switched develops as we continue to strive for a sustainable St Andrews.”
Whether local businesses will be as keen to get involved remains to be seen.
The Switched team stated that “an overwhelming number of businesses are enthused by the idea.”
According to members, the Doll’s House restaurant is one of several St Andrews venues that has committed to switching off its non-essential lights for the hour.
Conventional wisdom, however, suggests that a bright shopfront is more inviting. It may be difficult for Switched to convince small businesses to sacrifice possible customers on a weekly basis all for a symbolic gesture.
Now that the scheme has support and momentum, the team’s next task will be to persuade students and businesses of the actual significance of its plan.
First-year student Daisy Chambers wondered if the initiative was really tackling the ways businesses use energy inefficiently, saying, “I’ve noticed walking around town at night that a lot of shops keep their lights and digital displays on, which seem more wasteful and unnecessary.”
Ms Mackay emphasised, however, the “visually incredible impact” that would come from all of the businesses in the centre of town being unlit for one hour.
Switched also sees the initial hour as a stepping stone for greater collective action on climate change. According to the team, a number of local business shared “great stories about how their businesses were already actioning environmentally positive activities.”
More information can be found on the initiative’s official Facebook page, Switched- St Andrews