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When it comes to vending machines and money, you’re probably only concerned with the change in your pocket.

But it costs the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a pretty penny to run vending machines on campus. Until recently, UT Knoxville was spending roughly $100,000 per year operating vending machines. As the machines became more high-tech and brighter, that cost increased. That’s when UT Knoxville decided to turn them off — the lights, that is.

Vending MachinesAbout a year and a half ago, UT’s VolCard office, which oversees campus vending machines, turned off the lights in all 295 vending machines on the Knoxville campus. This small change resulted in big savings: $13,000 per year.

Beyond the obvious financial impact, turning off the vending machine lights has environmental benefits as well.

The reduced energy consumption means that less energy will have to be produced at power plants that cause pollution. In fact, the vending machine changes will keep almost 130 tons of carbon dioxide out of the air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Though it may not sound like much, removing 130 tons of carbon dioxide from the air is the equivalent of keeping about 25 cars off the road for a year," according to Gordie Bennett, sustainability manager for Facilities Services. "It’s just one more way UT is doing its part to reduce energy consumption and protect the environment."

The lights in some of the newer machines, as well as some of the older ones, must stay on in order for them to work properly, but for the most part, all vending machine lights on campus have been turned off.

"To ensure they stay that way, we go around about twice a year to check the lights," said Betty Smith, supervisor for campus vending in the VolCard office. "Going a step further, we also have asked vendors to do a little on their end as well."

When vendors recently renewed their contracts with UT Knoxville, the university made a special request that companies practice energy-conserving measures by supplying Energy Star machines, which use less electricity, and by turning off the lights before the machines were delivered. The companies also were asked to provide special signage for the machines indicating that the lights are off to conserve energy but that the vending machine is still on and running.

Efforts such as these are part of the "Switch Your Thinking" campaign designed to reduce energy consumption on the UT Knoxville campus by 10 percent this year — a move that will save the university more than $2 million from its campus energy budget. The campaign was launched last September.

Energy saving measures help reduce the impact of budget cuts while contributing to a better environment for everyone. Members of the UT community are invited to share feedback on ways to cut costs across campus at http://chancellor.utk.edu/budget/feedback/.

For more information on Switch Your Thinking and tips on how you can save energy, visit http://utk.edu/features/switch/.