College campuses are brimming with chances to go green, from turning off lights to encouraging recycling (students move every year!) to building awareness around global issues. And given the bonds and formative experiences they engender, campus communities can be like petri dishes for a lifetime of good, responsible living.
But the deal just got a little sweeter. Climate Culture, an upstart social network built around a sophisticated footprint calculator, has launched its massive college greening initiative, America's Greenest Campus, using rewards that any student can appreciate: an intercollegiate contest and $20,000 in prizes. Think of it as the NCAA of sustainability.The rules
The contest asks campus environmental leaders to get as many of their peers as possible to sign up at americasgreenestcampus.com. and cut their carbon dioxide footprints. After calculating her own footprint, a user can make any of nearly 150 behavioral pledges -- using less water, cutting down on electricity, eating less meat -- in order to bring that footprint down.
Then the reduction percentages across each campus get tallied up and put up on a leaderboard on the homepage. Currently, George Mason, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon occupy the top three spots.
Two winning campuses will be chosen on Earth Day, April 22: the school with the most participants and the school with the most carbon reductions per participant, with prize money going to the schools' environmental groups. It will be the latest, and perhaps biggest designation yet of America's greenest college.
To compete, each college must have a designated sponsor, a campus environmental group vetted by Climate Culture after a brief application process.
Any individual with a ".edu" email address can participate in the contest as part of their school. That means that not only current students but alumni, faculty and staff are also eligible, stretching campuses' carbon reduction efforts beyond their physical borders.
Harvard Yard (Harvard News Office)
The website, which quietly went public in December, gives each user an avatar and a virtual island, where they can simulate the impact of their personal carbon reductions.
It's like a cross between Facebook and Second Life, with a green tint: the lighter your footprint, the cooler your avatar and your island become. And a game, Scrubble, also allows users to earn actual carbon offsets.
Along with stats on CO2 reductions and dollars saved, users will be assigned associated points that in the future will indicate things like how many friends they've brought on board, and how well they have kept their resource-reduction pledges. (In the future, users will be encouraged to get their friends to verify if they are in fact turning off the faucet while brushing their teeth or doing only full loads of laundry.)
"We're giving students a tool they can use to tell fellow students that they can have an impact just by changing their daily behavior," says Andy Frank, Climate Culture's chief marketing officer. "Just knowing how much energy you're using helps change your behavior."
Along with each of its behavioral pledges, the site offers information on how its numbers are calculated, based on a variety of factors, like climate studies, product specifications and weather. But the metrics of individual carbon reduction commitments are still very much a work in progress. What, for instance, constitutes good behavior, and how many pounds of CO2 that behavior actually saves is up for debate, and will likely be clarified as the site develops.
Aside from spurring action on campuses across the country, the contest is part of Climate Culture's drive to build a deep wellspring of users before it makes a bigger splash starting on Earth Day.
It makes sense (and cents) to combine the power of social networks with a sophisticated carbon calculator. With all the CO2 reductions to be made and their abundant community spirit, college campuses are the perfect audience for this novel green tech.
It's also refreshing to see Web 2.0 applications like this that rise above poking and poker, and motivate people to get greener, that drive action in the real world.
By helping to illustrate the tangible environmental and economic impacts of personal behavior, the site also displaces "eco chic" with a more pragmatic basis for an ecological lifestyle.
"It's a bad time to be talking about [green] because its cool," says Frank. "It's a good time to say, be green because its going to save the environment and save money, because it's going to reduce our dependence on foreign energy."
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