Center for Environment and Society EcoChallenge connects college community through environmental actions

By Alaina Perdon

Elm Staff Writer

The Center for Environment and Society hopes to bring Washington College students and faculty together virtually with their Flock Together initiative, a series of events aimed at community-building which focus on the environment.

Flock Together events include a nature scavenger hunt through the app iNaturalist, game nights in partnership with Student Events Board, and guest speakers sponsored by CES.

The Campus EcoChallenge is the first event, beginning Aug. 31 and running until Oct. 15. The WC community was invited via email on Sept. 8 to join the school’s team, which is in competition with other colleges across the nation.  

Upon creating a team, each college is automatically placed in a bracket with other schools completing the EcoChallenge. Schools are ranked based on the amount of points they accumulate.

WC placed first in the nation during the EcoChallenge hosted in April 2020.

The EcoChallenge website lists nine action categories: waste, food, health, transportation, energy, community, nature, water, and simplicity. Participants can explore the goals of each category and select actions that they challenge themselves to complete each day. Checking off completed actions earns points for both the individual and the team. 

“The real hope is to spark personal action,” Jemima Clark, CES education program director, said. “We want people thinking about how they have control in making decisions that can positively affect the environment, and then coming together to work towards environmental actions that are personally attainable.”

These actions range from turning off electronics when they are not in use to organizing a community recycling program. The actions also vary in point value based on scale. For example, a large, community-wide action such as hosting a clothing drive is worth more points than the simpler act of powering off a laptop.

The different categories allow users to focus on specific areas of their life that they want to improve, whether that be spending more time in nature or reducing energy consumption.

“I hoped to more closely scrutinize my habits around consumption,” Chesapeake Semester Program Director Ben Ford said. “I have been focusing on personal fitness and resource use reductions. I have been biking into work and to the farmers’ market rather than driving.”

The EcoChallenge website approximates the real-world impact of each action, calculated in the pounds of carbon dioxide or gallons of water participants save by completing their daily actions. The team dashboard displays each member’s individual impact as well as the team’s overall progress.

According to CES Environment and Society Fellow and junior Max Moore, WC participants enjoy the sense of accomplishment that these statistics bring and use them as motivation to continue completing challenges.

“I enjoy the personal accountability,” Moore said. “I have become more conscious of energy use and remembering to turn off lights and such.”

It is these small, everyday actions which Clark hopes people will continue to take when the EcoChallenge is completed.

The EcoChallenge website also features a discussion board on which teammates can share their experiences and comment on each other’s activities. Posting or commenting on the discussion board is not only another way to earn points, but also, as Clark said, “another way to add to the community element of this activity, empowering each other throughout the challenge.”

A second EcoChallenge will begin in mid-October, following the conclusion of this event. CES plans to enhance the experience by adding new daily actions specific to the College’s sustainability efforts and modifying the team structure to spark more competitive spirit within the WC community.

At last count, the WC EcoChallenge team had 55 members and ranked 36th on the national leaderboards. Clark encourages everyone to join for themselves, for the environment, and for the sake of helping WC win.

Featured Photo caption: Washington College sits near the Chester River, an often-used resource by environmental science students and professors alike in conducting research. The river has cultivated a strong culture of environmentalism at the College which continues being supported by the Center for Environment and Society through their digital EcoChallenge. Photo by Izze Rios.

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