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"How Low Can We Go?" A Fun Challenge for U.S. Schools to Reduce Energy Consumption

Linda Gancitanois being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

Linda Gancitano

Linda Gancitano is being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

Back in 2008, I was watching the Oprah Winfrey Show as she showed snippets of the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. My eyes just happened to catch a scene that would change my world: the swimming polar bear who couldn’t reach another iceberg because the sea ice was melting. As the polar bear drowned, I found myself crying and thinking, this is wrong. This shouldn’t be happening. That image stayed in my mind for a long time.

In November 2008, I formed a Green Team at Driftwood Middle School (DMS) in Hollywood, Florida. Our team consisted of three teachers and three student leaders. The team has since tripled in size, and the school’s culture is visibly environmentally friendly. In fact, that was a primary objective of our first initiative: we created a visual board so that the entire school could track monthly energy usage.

Next, we raised awareness of energy conservation via the "How Low Can We Go?" Challenge—an initiative that later became partners with the Miami Heat during NBA’s Green Week to impact 64 Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest district in the country. If any partner could raise awareness of reducing CO2 emissions, it was the Miami Heat, voted one of the top "green" sports teams in the country.

Our first Energy Team, better known as the "DMS Chillers," walked from room to room after school looking for classrooms with lights left on. The students would leave a painted paw print (in memory of the polar bear) on the door saying, “You’ve been Chilled!” as a reminder to teachers to turn off lights when they left for the day. Our teachers and custodial staff started to get really involved in conserving energy. No teacher wanted a big paw print on their door on Monday morning!

Next up, the Green Team took to creating an Energy Audit Team that ventured into classrooms and made suggestions to the teachers and other students on how to conserve energy. Last year's new initiatives included the "Are You S.E.K.C.?" (Stopping Excessive Kilowatt Consumption) and the "Are You a H.E.R.O.?" (Helpful Energy Resource Officer) campaigns. The students hand out green H.E.R.O. bracelets when they catch a teacher or another student conserving energy. Since the Green Team was formed in 2008, the school has seen a 23% decrease in emissions. Our greatest challenge in decreasing energy even further is technology, an antiquated cooling system that needs to be replaced. DMS continues to expand our alternative energy education by including future projects, such as solar power and a wind turbine, to the curriculum. The tradition of the DMS Chillers lives on, impacting our 1,600 students and faculty.

So, How Low Can You Go?

Our partnership with the Miami Heat initially has enticed schools to rise to the challenge of reducing their environmental footprint. Not only by raising awareness of the effects of CO2 emissions but also educating the facilities on potential financial savings through responsible energy consumption. Curtailing wasteful spending on unnecessary energy consumption has the added benefit of allowing schools to allocate those saved dollars to under-funded programs. In the one-month pilot program in February 2014, we saved over $34,000 in energy costs and reached over 90,000 faculty and students. This school year, with 87 schools registered for the challenge, the impact will reach over 100,000. Future possibilities include South Florida's Tri-County Area and the whole country!

Won't you join us?

Linda Gancitano is a Physical Education and Wellness educator at Driftwood Middle School in Broward County, Florida.