By Monica Seeley | Feb 20, 2015

A classroom challenge to reduce students' carbon footprint has turned into one of the six research projects awarded a Green Seed Fund grant this year.

In the Green Seed Fund's latest round of funding, 25 proposals were received totaling $1.5 million in requests. A committee of students, faculty and staff awarded about $250,000 in funding to the top six proposals, including "Carbon Challenge: Footprint Reduction through Curricular Development and Community Building."

The groundwork for the proposal began a year ago with Ellen Moore. In addition to teaching Environmental Issues in Communication as a professor at the University of Washington Tacoma, Moore is a commissioner with the city of Tacoma and a member of the Sustainable Tacoma Commission. In early 2014, she competed with the other commission members in “Tacoma’s Biggest Carbon Loser” challenge. The commissioners challenged themselves and each other to reduce the number of pounds of carbon they release into the atmosphere from their daily activities. After 30 days, Moore was the winner!

Kylie Lanthorn, one of Moore’s former students at UWT, suggested taking the challenge into the classroom. Motivated by her personal success, Moore did just that, challenging her students to reduce their carbon footprint. Called "UWT's Biggest Carbon Loser Challenge," the experiment was a great success. Not only had the students lessened their carbon output, they wrote five weeks’ worth of reflective essays that revealed changes in diet and energy usage. Given the success of the challenge, and the amount of data available in those essays, Moore decided to expand the project by applying for funding from the Green Seed Fund.

The new project brings more scientific credibility to the UWT Biggest Loser idea. All the gathered essays will be coded and run through correlation programs in order to extract data. With this information, the team will be able to see how the students felt as they went from talking about sustainability to actually “walking the talk,” and if there are themes that could help shape similar efforts to reduce students' carbon footprints.

Research shows that three weeks of consistent behavior leads to habit, and with the challenge taking 10 weeks to complete, Moore hopes the students will continue to make low-carbon choices after the course ends. Encouraging the proposal’s goal of “turning abstract into everyday practice,” we wish Ellen Moore and the rest of her team success as they start the research for their Green Seed Fund project!

For more information on the Green Seed Fund please visit: https://green.uw.edu/green-seed-proposals