HPA team among finalists in international competition

Hawaii Preparatory Academy juniors Jessie Ainslie, Ari Datta, Tori Greco-Hiranaka and Leila Morrison recently were named finalists in an international competition, Project Green Challenge (PGC). The HPA students placed 10th among 3,000 other high school and college teams in a program that aims to raise environmental awareness.

Project Green Challenge consists of 30 challenges in 30 days, each with four levels of engagement — green, greener, greenest and extra credit. Each day features a different theme, such as food, fitness and technology. The participants upload their responses, which include YouTube videos and Facebook posts, on the PGC website for judging and scoring.

Other challenges include applying for grants, organizing clothing drives and ranking the “greenness” of many household products. The top 15 teams were invited to send one representative to a three-day eco summit Nov. 22-24 at Green University in San Francisco.

Since each member of the HPA team was equally crucial to the group’s success, the team decided to ask the school’s librarian, Lois Inman, to pick its ambassador by drawing a name from a hat. Inman drew Ainslie’s name. At the conference, Ainslie presented the group’s experiences throughout the challenge and discussed campaigns to make the school more sustainable with environmental leaders from organizations such as the National Resource Defense Council, Whole Foods Market and the Environmental Working Group.

Ainslie also received a special treat — an eco-makeover using all green products; she received many of these products as prizes for winning some of the daily challenges. One of the goals of Project Green Challenge is to drastically increase every participant’s environmental awareness, leading to a greener lifestyle. However, the team already was ahead of others because of HPA’s focus on sustainability.

The group gained a lot of insight working at the Energy Lab with lab director Bill Wiecking, who introduced them to the competition. One of the challenges involved implementing the Take Back The Tap program, which HPA already implemented several years ago. Ainslie reflected that being at HPA probably was the team’s greatest advantage.

“Our school is already leaps and bounds ahead of being environmentally conscious,” Ainslie said. “The school really goes above and beyond to support you in all your projects.”

Other than proving the forward-thinking mindset of HPA, the team’s journey inspired each individual to turn the 30-day commitment into a lifelong venture.

Ainslie said after Project Green Challenge, “thinking about the environment has really become second nature.” The team is working on many other projects, including beach clean-ups at South Point with members they met at the summit from 5 Gyres, a company that aims to reduce plastics pollution.

“The summit showed me that the passion and energy from a group or even a single person can be contagious,” Ainslie said. And about all the prizes the successful group received? “It felt like Christmas!”


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