“Making waves, girls?”
“Yep.” I smiled back at Mr. Kraft, an assistant principal at my school.
For years, I had been concerned about the environment, but didn’t think I could do much to help. If you’re like the majority of people, you’ve probably shared this feeling. Last year, however, I was able to “make waves” by getting educated about the environment and completing a Climate Action Project that had a real impact.
My journey began when I signed up for Project Green Challenge (PGC).
Each day of October 2020, my team completed all three challenges (Green, Greener, Greenest). We learned about the topics in an exciting, hands-on way. Some things I did include:
- (Failing to) make sustainable DIY shampoo
- Cooking a delicious vegan wild rice soup
- Writing a letter to a local politician — and even receiving a response!
- Watching and reflecting on documentaries
The challenges effortlessly made me a more sustainable, conscious person.
A few days after starting, my teammate, Claire, texted me saying our submission won! We ended up winning dozens of sustainable products and gift cards. They were all fun to try, high quality, and perfect for when I move out for college. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but it was almost all sunshine and rainbows.
Many finalists I know describe PGC as a life-changing experience. If you do PGC, you will likely learn more about environmental solutions in thirty days than you have in your entire life. You have the freedom to participate in the challenges you find most interesting, impactful, or fun. You will take away knowledge, new perspectives, and, if you’re lucky, sustainable prizes!
As soon as I began gaining these takeaways, I knew I wanted to be a finalist. The application process was intense. I put all my effort into a final video and reflection that were used for selecting finalists.
When I found out I was a finalist, I could not wait to continue my journey with Turning Green, and I was beyond excited for the eco-summit. I met the other finalists on an Instagram chat. To be entirely honest, I was intimidated by the finalists in college and from across the world. However, they all were kind and amazing.
My team got to work on our Climate Action Project (CAP). We envisioned putting solar on our school and encouraging and enabling students to conserve energy. The multiple sides of the project balanced out the risk of not completing the difficult parts.
The first part of the PGC finals was on Zoom. We received seed money for our Climate Action Project, which was super helpful.
While road bumps were expected, we ran into obstacles and dead ends left and right. Unexpected distance learning changed the paths that were available to us. We got lost and changed routes many times but made it to a destination, though somewhat different than we first envisioned. Ultimately, we obtained and distributed 1,250 energy efficiency kits to students at our high school and educated students at the high school and middle schools about energy conservation through a video that was shared during class. We also proposed and advocated for solar and made relevant connections, but let’s just say bureaucracy is hard to navigate. And slow.
I learned that the second part of finals was going to be held on Zoom. As you might expect, I was ambivalent about the change of plans. I understood that safety and reducing the spread of Covid was important, but… I really wanted to go to California.
I’ve heard about the awesome activities that typically take place at the eco-summit, which include cooking vegan food together, having a sustainable makeover, and taking field trips to cool places in the Bay Area. It sounds epic. I still hope I can go to the finals someday. Or at least I would love to visit and meet some of the people I met through Turning Green in person.
Despite this hiccup, the Zoom finals were still a blast! We got to listen to leaders of environmental nonprofits and companies, activists, and policymakers. It was super cool to hear the personal experiences and what sustainability and the environment mean to such amazing people. The part that really stuck with me, though, was the other finalists’ presentations. The projects were impressive. From organizing sustainability events to creating gardens to implementing programs to teach other students about sustainability, I saw extraordinary students making an impact on their community.
When the winners were announced, I did not have high expectations. My thoughts were along the lines of, “If I place, awesome; if I don’t, one of these deserving students did and I still had a great Climate Action Project.”
I hard the person announcing the winners read, “This team overcame many challenges…”
That’s our team name. Not to get too convoluted, but it stands for Stillwater Area High School Environmental Conservation Club… just in case you were wondering.
My teammate, Claire, was also watching. We both knew it was us about halfway through the description. She started texting me excitedly, so while I listened to us be declared 2nd place, I heard my phone go, “buzz buzz” about 15 times. That is the Zoom equivalent of deafening cheers.
Seriously though, I could not believe that I got second place overall!
Deciding to sign up for PGC was the best decision I made. And every high school and college student can do the same!
Although you learn a ton about sustainability, the most important lessons can’t be learned just from reading a website or listening to a podcast. You become resilient through the challenges that you have to overcome. You become self-motivated when your work aligns with your values and passions. You change little habits and become the person you want to be.
So, moral of the story? Sign up for PGC!