Campus LifeNews

UW Carbon Challenge Sets Goal to Lose 5,000 pounds of Carbon a Quarter

Spreading from a 40-person class to three campuses, the UW Carbon Challenge has taken on a new form as the University of Washington Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma challenge each other to lose a goal of 2 million pounds of carbon for the school year.

Communications professor, Dr. Ellen Moore started the Carbon Challenge last Autumn in her TCOM 310 Environmental Communications class. Moore, who is an active member of the UWT sustainability committee, began the carbon challenge with a simple goal: to maintain and enhance the sustainable practices that UWT already engages in, and to develop them further for the future.

In the beginning of the quarter, students receive a guide on how to lose 5,000 pounds of carbon during the current quarter. Students are then shown the process of how to calculate one’s carbon weight online.

The three tiers that are laid in the campaign fact sheet are as follows: “we as teachers challenge YOU as students to lose carbon weight; we challenge ourselves to do the same; and you challenge one other member of our UW community (a professor, another student, or the Chancellor!) to lose 5,000 pounds.”

It does not take much to make a difference, the even the smallest change is unfriendly environmental behavior can make all the difference. Manageable (and minimal) changes such as showering for only five minutes a day, using energy-efficient light bulbs, eating less meat (or cutting meat out of one’s diet), unplugging unused electronics, and challenging other students, staff and faculty are all part of the challenge.

Students are given challenge cards and these cards have a place for the name of the person being challenged. The challenge card states “You’ve been CHALLENGED! To lose 5000 pounds of carbon weight in 40 days.” On the back of the card there are instructions on how to participate in the challenge. The goal is to then lose the same amount of weight or sing the Husky fight song (as a group) publicly to “opt out.” The more people that are challenged, the more points the challenger can earn.

Participants are required to complete four surveys throughout the quarter; providing their retrospective experience throughout the challenge.

“To help the planet is a lofty goal. The overall goal for the campus is to lose 2 million pounds of carbon,” says Moore. The 2 million pounds stems from a challenge across the UW community—a tri-campus challenge between Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma.

The Seattle and Bothell campuses are smaller than UWT in terms of the number of classes participating, however, the one Seattle class who accepted the Carbon Challenge is a lecture class with 300 students.

“I started this whole thing as a way to ‘walk the talk.’I was teaching sustainability but I wasn’t being sustainable in my own life. Making the switch enhances my pedagogy—my teaching—because I walk the talk,” says Moore.

While on her mission of cutting carbon weight last year, Moore made a drastic change from eating meat almost every day to cutting it out of her diet almost entirely. “I made changes in my life that are more sustainable, I want to work with UW Tacoma, for their active plan of being a campus of sustainability,” she says. Students are encouraged to take chances, but are not required to make such drastic changes, as small steps are helpful as well.

The Carbon Challenge was awarded a $50,000 grant as a principal investigator—the lead researcher for a particular well-defined project—based on the sustainability research found during the quarter. The grant will go towards reserving space for committee meetings, paying student coders, travel costs, and pay participating professors for taking on extra work.

Student coders will be hired after each quarter the Carbon Challenge is completed. The coders will analyze the data collected in the aforementioned surveys and reflections and try to interpret various trends, which will then be used to inform discussion at yearly UW sustainability meetings. The ideas will then be published and presented in conferences throughout the country.

Another portion of the grant will go towards a guest speaker, Lauren Singer, founder of “Trash is for Tossers” ( Singer, who was an Environmental Studies major in college, lives a zero waste life in New York City; the waste she does emit fits in little glass jar.

Singer will be speaking on November 5th in William Phillips Hall from 4-6 pm, spending the first hour lecturing on how to be trash-free and the second hour on questions from the public.

Although the Carbon Challenge started with 40 students in Moore’s environmental communication (TCOM 310) class, the concept has spread like wildfire. Currently, there are seven professors embracing the challenge in their own classrooms. These faculty members include, Tom Koontz, Jim Gaval, Jane Compson, Alison Cardinal, Ellen Bayer and Janie Miller. These professors are also introducing and challenging students to lose carbon weight in some of their classes.

If you’re interested in participating, the UW Carbon Challenge has a Facebook page where participants encourage one another, post links to environmentally-friendly recipes, and engage in friendly “trash talk” over which campus is going to win.

In the future, Moore plans to expand the Carbon Challenge by attempting to follow the example of the University of Puget Sound’s “I’d Tap That” movement, which tackles the U.S.’s dependence on plastic by working with UWT food production and stores in hopes of eliminating one-time use plastics around campus.