MTVU and General Electric want to make it easier to be “green,” and they’re targeting college campuses with the Ecomagination Challenge. Part contest, part vehicle to promote environmental awareness, the challenge offers $25,000 to the team of students that comes up with the most innovative idea to reduce campus waste.
“We see college campuses as laboratories for new ideas and new trends,” said Stephen Friedman, general manager of MTVU. “The future Nobel Prize winners and scientists and entrepreneurs and thinkers are coming out of colleges today. We thought we would start with the most trendsetting audience and really hope that we can discover ideas that ultimately will live well beyond campuses.”
The $25,000 grand prize isn’t meant for the team members to spend on themselves, however – it must be spent implementing their idea on campus. Aside from the personal satisfaction of making their campus more environmentally responsible, students will also receive an Earth Day concert and festival. Scheduled bands have yet to be announced but will perform at the winning campus on April 22.
The deadline for applying is Dec. 1. Students are required to create a profile with a primary contact, or team leader, before filling out the six-page application. Ten finalists will be announced on or around Jan. 15, and students can vote online at Ecocollegechallenge.com for their favorite submission.
“(Rotaract) will participate in the Ecomagination Challenge because we have not focused on the USF campus, and it would be a great idea to look into what the students can do to make our campus more environmentally friendly,” said Erin Hucke, sophomore and Rotaract club president. “Most of our service involves working with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Croc Encounters, Seniors in Service, P.E.T., Salvation Army and many others.”
Submissions can come from individual students and independent groups as well as established organizations. Freshman Ashley Carone created the Ecomagination group on Facebook to get any interested students involved with the Challenge.
“We live in a pretty polluted metropolitan area, and the amount of resources our campus consumes must be astonishingly high – just the amount of pollution that our cars put out trying to find parking spots has to be extremely high,” she said. “I don’t know the exact figures in regards to how much electricity, water and fuel USF uses, but I’m sure it could be lower.
“The hardest part is the sheer size of the campus and the overwhelming amount of students. It is so huge that small organizations and efforts tend to be overlooked, but making the campus more environmentally friendly would benefit everyone.”
Carone doesn’t have a specific idea in mind, but she plans to hold a meeting with group members to discuss possible projects.
“The group hasn’t met up yet. I just sent out a bulletin to organize a meeting sometime within the next week, as (the deadline is) Dec. 1 – less than two weeks away,” she said.
Entries will be judged on four criteria: originality, practical application of the project, feasibility of execution and environmental impact. Students should keep these requirements in mind while conceptualizing a project.
“Students have to ask themselves, ‘Will the project contribute to limiting global warming?'” said Britta Barrett, GE Ecomagination project manager. “‘Does it conserve energy? Is it imaginative? Is it something new and different? Has it been done before? In regards to economics, will the benefits outweigh the costs? How will it get done? What is the timeline?'”
Though the Challenge focuses on developing an idea to improve the environmental state of one’s college campus, organizers stressed the importance of creating a course of action to show how the concept can become a reality.
“Try to have some idea as to how your plan might be implemented,” Barrett said. “Say you do win and you do get the $25,000 – how would you go about putting it into action? If your plan is to put solar panels on the gym roof, try to think of how much it could possibly cost. Get together with the engineers of the school and figure out a base plan of some sort. We don’t need a business plan or anything of that nature, but just some idea.”
Ecocollegechallenge.com offers tips on how to get started and examples of environmental projects other colleges have undertaken. The examples include Oberlin College’s “Green Building,” which was designed to use less energy than a typical building, constructed of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and houses a machine to process wastewater. Though this is a large-scale project, Friedman emphasizes that submissions don’t have to be so extreme.
“We put very few requirements for this challenge because we wanted students to come back to us with ideas,” he said. “I think scale is less of an issue. It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. It has to be a good idea that yields clear results. Winning ideas are going to have to be creative and ones that demonstrate real results.
“The winner will be an idea that other campuses will embrace, and this idea will grow well beyond the campus that created it.”
Friedman considers one of the Ecomagination Challenge’s advertising schemes to exemplify a small idea that creates a larger environmental impact.
“We’ve sent out postcards to college students to remind them to apply, and one of the staff members had a really smart idea,” he said. “They said, ‘Obviously we should make the postcards biodegradable, but let’s take it a step further. Let’s make it out of seed paper.’ Once you read all the information on the postcard, you put it in some dirt, water it, and in a few weeks you have marigolds flowering. Here we’re getting out information while improving the environment, and I think it’s simple ideas like that that have really great potential.”
The grand-prize winner will be announced on March 20.