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‘Don’t Be Crabby: Turn Off Your Lights’

03/19/12 by Kathy Chaffin

Mecklenburg County employees in a downtown Charlotte center may find a crab on their desk chair if they forget to turn their office lights off when they leave for more than 15 minutes.

One even found a crab on the chair along with five other crabs on the floor and a “Crab Shack” bucket containing even more turned on its side. This is all part of a game called “Crab: You’re It,” during which fellow employees pass around the plastic creatures as a friendly — and fun — reminder to turn their lights off.

It started as part of a campaign to get the 300 employees of the Hal Marshall Center to turn off the lights when leaving their offices for more than 15 minutes or at the end of the day. Shelley Lanham, Charlotte Area Coordinator for N.C. Air Awareness, shared how the campaign had caused a lasting change in their behaviors with Catawba College students, faculty and staff at a Lunch and Learn event March 15.

Lanham was part of a seven-member planning team which followed steps outlined by Dr. Doug McKenzie Mohr for Community-Based Social Marketing campaigns in his book, “Fostering Sustainable Behavior.”  They called the campaign, “Don’t Be Crabby: Turn Off Your Lights,” and developed the game — a combination of “Tag: You’re It: and “Hot Potato” — to make it more fun.

As part of the campaign, employees were asked to “adopt” lights in common areas such as hallways, cubicle areas, break rooms and copy rooms. Once lights were adopted, the names of employees who agreed to be responsible for turning them off were typed on paper, laminated and posted above the lights.

The 300 employees in the building were surveyed prior to implementation of the campaign on whether they turned off their office lights upon leaving for at least 15 minutes or at the end of the day and whether they turned off lights in common areas. The results showed 85 percent said they always turned off their office lights and only 5 percent turned off common area lights.

Lanham said one of the reasons given for not turning off office lights when leaving for meetings and such during the daytime was “the appearance of not working.” Employees also said in the surveys that they didn’t consider it their personal responsibility to turn off common area lights.

The next step for the planning team was to conduct an audit to verify if the survey results were correct. Lanham said the audit, conducted in January of 2011, determined that lights were being left on in 65 percent of offices when occupants had left for more than 15 minutes during the day and that 35 percent of common area lights were left on overnight.

“That’s a really big discrepancy between what they were doing and what they thought they were doing,” she said.

However, the game and incentives — which included an ice cream social for all employees if they raised the overall percentage of turning office lights off to 90 percent and being entered in a drawing for an extra vacation day if they agreed to adopt common area lights — helped raise that percentage to the goal of 90 percent by the time the campaign ended in May.

Lanham said that percentage had slipped to 80 percent according to a follow-up audit conducted in June, but had risen back to 90 percent according to another follow-up audit conducted in December 2011. And it has continued, she said.

Because Lanham goes in at 7:30, which is earlier than most employees, she said, “the hallways are dark except for every third light that is on for safety reasons.”

The “Don’t Be Crabby: Turn Your Lights Off” campaign is being expanded to include the 98 percent of Charlotte’s urban core participating in the Envision Charlotte program – a public/private partnership with the goal of making the city the most sustainable United States urban core – and the Air Awareness program involving 250 business in the Charlotte region.

Lanham said the best part about both components of the campaign — turning office lights off and adopting common area lights — is that they have proven to be sustainable more than a year after implementation.

“We did have a few negative people who defiled the crabs and stabbed them, things like that,” she said, “but they did turn their lights off. It was fun and even if you have cranky, ‘crabby’ people, the message still comes across that you need to turn your light off.”


The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country. For more information, visit www.centerfortheenvironment.orgor

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