Between April 1 and April 25, nearly 100 participants engaged in 151 individual green actions. Participation in the pilot program surpassed the Challenge organizers' expectations and established an excellent foundation for future Earth Days.
The Earth Day Challenge was structured around a series of action projects sponsored by student organizations, departments, community groups, and businesses. With 32 sponsored action projects to choose from, participants engaged in activities that ranged from taking public transportation to joining a Charles River cleanup to performing an energy upgrade of a local community building, earning green points and prizes along the way. Due to its decentralized design, the Challenge enabled many organizations to more actively contribute to Earth Day at MIT than in past years. The focus on individual action through a behavioral challenge was inspired in part by other successful MIT community challenges such as getfit, and the program provided a unique opportunity for individuals to have a positive environmental impact on the MIT campus and nearby community.
The MIT Energy Initiative sponsored a particularly relevant project for the Earth Day Challenge. On April 23, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times Dot Earth blog presented a colloquium entitled Building the #Knowosphere: How new ways to share and shape ideas can help build durable progress on a finite planet. Revkin spoke of 21st century methods of communication and information-sharing designed to break boundaries and encourage action. The Challenge itself similarly provided a novel method for the MIT community to put environmental knowledge into action.
Many of the projects required individuals to take physical action. For example, participants in the Streamline Lab Recycling Signage project helped the Environment, Health, & Safety Office (EHS) distribute new recycling labels to lab spaces and affix them to receptacles to help increase proper recycling of special materials such as glass chemical bottles and pipette tip boxes. Niamh Kelly, officer in the Hazardous Waste Program in EHS and sponsor of the project remarked, "The Earth Day Challenge presented a great way to add value to our lab recycling program and get new people involved in helping to create sustainable lab spaces."
After nearly a month of sustainable action projects, the Challenge culminated on April 26 with the Earth Day Bash, where participants, sponsors, and organizers celebrated Earth Day and their collective achievements. The six highest point earners were announced and awarded green prizes furnished by local businesses and organizations. First place winner, Jennifer Apell, graduate student in Civil and Environmental Engineering, received the grand prize of $500 provided by the Sustainability Program of the Environment, Health, and Safety Headquarters Office at MIT. "The Earth Day Challenge is a great program for informing the MIT community about how to participate in sustainable initiatives and inspires staff and students like myself to take part," Apell said.
The winners were:
- 1st Place ($500 grand prize): Jennifer Apell, student, Civil and Environmental Engineering, 188 green points
- 2nd Place: Weijia Zhang, staff, David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, 155 green points
- 3rd Place: Irene Hu, student, Civil and Environmental Engineering, 126 green points
- 4th Place: Michelle Miller, staff, Libraries, 112 green points
- 5th Place: Gracie Dorneus, staff, Chemical Engineering, 70 green points
- 6th Place: Niamh Kelly, staff, Environment, Health, and Safety Office, 55 green points