Champlain Students Succeed at Project Green Challenge

Champlain students live green lifestyles for a month to win national environmental competition.

For Champlain College, 2019 was the year of the environment. Champlain was ranked as the 25th Greenest College in the US by the Princeton Review, we earned a silver STARS sustainability rating, and five of our students were finalists in the nationwide service and sustainability competition, Project Green Challenge. 

Run by the organization Turning Green, “Project Green Challenge is a 30-day challenge during the month of October, designed to educate and empower [high school and college] students to make permanent environmental and sustainable changes in their lives and their community,” explains senior Broadcast Media Production major and Project Green Challenge finalist Julia Leonard.

Throughout the 30 days, students learn about how to live sustainably by participating in daily challenges that range from green, greener, to greenest (easy, medium, hard). “Every day has a different theme (Wellness, Soil, Energy, Water, to name a few), so the three challenges each day corresponds to that theme. They all consist of a mixture of learning, doing, and sharing,” says Leonard. The more challenges completed and shared, the more points a student earns. The students who earn the most points at the end of the month get to attend a prestigious environmental conference in San Francisco, California. 

Project Green Challenge finalist Sarah Cipollini ’20 // Environmental Studies & Policy (right) and friends raise awareness around green policy and environmental stewardship during the 2019 Global Climate Strike.

Being a finalist for Project Green Challenge is a great environmental honor and accomplishment for students and schools alike. From Champlain College, Julia Leonard landed on the leaderboard, as well as the student group Team Green Queens consisting of senior Environmental Studies & Policy majors Sarah Cipollini, Holly Francis, Tatum Robinson, and Ariel Simpson. Leonard and Robinson went to the San Francisco conference together in late 2019.

The conference included a series of excursions to local sustainable companies, a FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal, non-GMO) cooking competition, and presentations showcasing their accomplishments during the 30-day competition. After a full day of incredible presentations from the finalists, the results rolled in, with Champlain on top: Robinson notched second place, and Leonard earned an honorable mention for fourth.

Project Green Challenge: Getting Started

None of these students originally set out with the intent to win the competition. For them, Project Green Challenge was simply a welcomed and exciting addition to their lives. 

“I first heard about the project from my friend [and Eco-Rep leader] Hansel Carter,” explains Leonard. “Hansel was going around campus trying to get as many people to sign up as possible. I told him I’d sign up if he sent me the link…  Over the past few months I had been making big changes in my life—severely reducing my use of single-use items, exclusively buying secondhand clothes, and buying less processed food. I was at the point where I wanted to do more, but I didn’t have the confidence or the proper tools to do that effectively. I knew Project Green could help me with both of those.” 

For Sarah Cipollini and the rest of Team Green Queens, the project was an opportunity to express what they had been learning in their Environmental Studies & Policy major classes. 

“I first heard about the challenge through Hansel,” says Cipollini. At first, Cipollini wasn’t sure if she’d have time during the semester to complete the challenge, but after forming her team, she felt confident in participating. “I knew we’d be able to do great things on campus, combining our passion and brainpower. I really appreciated Turning Green’s mission with Project Green Challenge: Touch lives, shift mindsets, and equip students with knowledge, resources, and mentorship to lead change on campuses and communities worldwide. It aligns well with what I hope to do in the future and with the rest of my college career.” 

Eco-Rep co-captain Hansel Carter was instrumental in getting students to be more green at Champlain College. Alongside his other duties as an Eco-Rep—including running environmental activities on campus and in residence halls—Carter and the Eco-Reps promoted the challenge early in the fall semester. In 2018, Carter competed in Project Green Challenge and ended up on the national leaderboard. This year, Carter knew the 30-day challenge would help our community learn positive green habits and learn how to incorporate service and sustainability into their semesters. 

Hansel Carter ’20 // Filmmaking, at the 2019 San Francisco Project Green Challenge conference supporting the Champlain College finalists.

“I [helped] 70 people register,” says Carter. “…and then on top of that, we did a lot of tabling and promoting, so more people registered on their own. We got really high engagement this year. In doing things like Project Green Challenge and attending Eco-Rep events, you can see that your small behaviors and your small actions can have big impacts. The fact that so many more Champlain students are becoming more aware this year, is outstanding.”

Daily Green Challenges

After gaining awareness, our students took action. Both Leonard and Cipollini completed projects for the challenge that gave them the opportunity to make a visible difference in their communities. Both students made videos, social posts, sustainable meals, and even public demonstrations that educated themselves and their peers on topics such as zero waste, agricultural sustainability, organic foods, climate change, social justice, and more. 

“Some of my favorite challenges were the ones where I got to share what I learned on social media. One of my favorites was on Fair Trade Day. The purpose of my piece was to share how important every purchase you make is,” notes Leonard. “These challenges built my confidence and supplied me with tools to create real change. I finally feel like I can make an impact in my own life, but also in others, and that makes me proud.” 

Julia Leonard’s social graphic for Project Green Challenge teaches viewers about fair trade and how to use their money toward “buy better” purchases.

“My favorite few days included Food, Body, Social Justice, and Adventure,” says Cipollini. “For the extra credit portion of Food Day, my teammates and I got together to cook a FLOSN feast, and I created some graphics of what we bought and prepared. On Social Justice Day, I stood on campus with Julia and advocated for an issue we care about. I chose to make a heart-shaped sign with a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote and later brought the sign to an ICE protest, too. On each of these days, I felt as though I was able to learn something new or learn a new way to share information on subjects I am passionate about.” 

Julia Leonard and Sarah Cipollini create signs addressing social justice issues they’re passionate about and share them with the Champlain community.

Through these challenges, not only did they get the reward of winning a national competition, but they also walked away with lasting impacts on their daily lives. At the end of October, both Leonard and Cipollini knew their green challenge would not stop after 30 days. 

“[Project Green Challenge] got me thinking a lot more about my individual impact, and the day-to-day choices that I make,” says Cipollini. “I try to be more conscious, and connect more with the things I’m doing, eating, purchasing, and throwing away. The power of leading by example is real, which has been really cool to see throughout doing Project Green Challenge.”

“This challenge was the push I needed to take me down the path I always knew I wanted to go,” concludes Leonard. “Completing this challenge is a motivator to be green in my day-to-day life.”

Julia Leonard’s social media graphic for Project Green Challenge depicts of all of the ways Champlain College dares be different and dares to be green.

Looking to the Future

While five of our students made it on the leaderboard at the end of October, there were many, many more Champlain students participating each day. With the dozens of students who participated in Project Green Challenge in the 2019 fall semester, Champlain College won fourth place on the top schools national leaderboard

Of course, Leonard and Cipollini are not surprised Champlain College found success in Project Green Challenge. As the 25th Greenest College in the US, we have the passion to be green. 

“Champlain has many pockets of really passionate individuals,” says Cipollini. “When given the chance to participate in something like this and share what we care about, we show up.” 

Julia Leonard (middle back) and Tatum Robinson ’20 // Environmental Studies & Policy (front second to the right) represented Champlain College at the San Francisco Project Green Challenge conference.

After the positive effect Project Green Challenge had on our campus in 2019, one thing is for sure: We can expect even more Champlain students to show up to Project Green Challenge in 2020.

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