Asheville High School Students Step Up for Drawdown EcoChallenge

In April students from Asheville High school in Asheville, North Carolina wowed us with their performance in Drawdown EcoChallenge, a three-week challenge to reduce global warming. The group of 512 students (representing nearly half the student body) came in 1st place out of 767 teams. They showed us students today are smart, care about the environment (and other issues), and are powerful advocates for our future. The students’ reward for 1st place: a one-hour video chat with renowned environmentalist, Paul Hawken, founder and executive director of Project Drawdown.   

Today’s guest blog post is from Sarah Duffer, a teacher at Asheville High School and coordinator of the impressive student team.

News of Drawdown EcoChallenge came across my email early in the spring of 2018. Hungry for an engaging way to teach my content I enrolled our school. I pitched the competition to students the week before our spring break (which also happened to be the first week of the competition). To my surprise, a handful of students used their spring break, like me, to delve into EcoChallenge. Asheville High School logo

Their work quelled any questions I had about teenagers’ reception to the competition. Once we returned from break, our work began. I created ten assignments that aligned with my curriculum and were focused on five of the seven Drawdown sectors: energy, land use, food, women and girls, and materials. Momentum was building on campus, and soon students in other classrooms and even clubs were getting involved.

Tragedy struck our school community on April 18 when one of our high school students, his middle school sister, and their mother were shot and killed at home. Our community was jarred in shock and grief. The two siblings were well known and loved by many of our students, and for the rest of that week learning took the backseat to grieving. This time, for me, was marked by the dichotomy of monumental loss on one hand and the promise of winning a competition that by then spanned 767 teams worldwide.

By Monday, April 23, it was clear that as the Earth rotated we were leapfrogging with anothert team for first place. Students were getting excited about the possibility of teenagers outcompeting a multinational corporation. I sent out campus-wide emails on the last day of the competition with a plea for a final push to earn over 22,000 points to secure first place. That morning was one of the most jaw dropping moments of my career as I periodically checked the dashboard and saw the massive gains we were earning. Students were learning about tangible, everyday solutions to arguably our planet’s greatest problem. On an emotional level, I saw smiles on faces for the first time in a week. I will never forget how our Asheville High School students bound together in the midst of enormous heartache and worked toward a common goal while learning how to create a more promising future.

Asheville High School students participating in a live video chat with Paul Hawken.

When the possibility of winning Drawdown EcoChallenge became real, I was in awe that we would have an hour of Paul Hawken’s attention. I was first introduced to his business paradigm-shifting The Ecology of Commerce as an UNC-Asheville student in Dr. Dee Egger’s Strategies for Sustainability in Business course. To educate students on who Mr. Hawken is and what he has done for the social justice and environmental movements, we researched his past accomplishments and read his Drawdown essays.

Students wrote at least two questions they wanted to ask him. The top fourteen questions were selected from standard, honors, and AP students. Students asked questions and Mr. Hawken gave thorough, candid answers. Many students and faculty were deeply inspired and affirmed in their quest to continue the work we have ahead of us as we adopt the solutions in Drawdown.

Asheville High’s greatest accomplishments, in my opinion, were matching and surpassing every minute of the three-week competition with minutes spent learning.

Our work together not only earned us the honor of being the first place team in the inaugural Drawdown EcoChallenge, by a groundbreaking 31,000 point lead, but reinforced to teenagers and adults alike that today’s youth are indeed changemakers.

A Summer To-do List You’ll Love To Do

Oh YES, it’s here…today is the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere. It’s a day that signals backyard barbeques, fun adventures, water sports, and so much more.

To kick off summer, we’re sharing 21 ideas for getting outside, finding balance, and helping the planet. When we do good for ourselves and others, and treat the environment with care, we thrive and so do our communities. We hope this list serves as inspiration and motivation for you throughout the summer.


#4 Drinking lots of water applies to our pets, too!
#4 Drinking lots of water applies to our pets, too!
  1. Go for a hike, run, or walk
  2. Help a neighbor weed their yard
  3. Volunteer with your local parks conservancy group
  4. Drink lots of water. And then drink more
  5. Look up at the sky and find animal shapes in the clouds
  6. Observe wildlife and flora in your backyard, document it using iNaturalist
  7. Play a musical instrument in the grass
  8. Spend 20 minutes learning something new
  9. Share what you learned with others
  10. Donate a bag of groceries (or a few cans) to your local food pantry
  11. Find a mountain water source and take a cool plunge
  12. Take a nap in a hammock (in the shade!)
  13. Explore a new hiking or biking trail
  14. Strive for zero waste
  15. Invite your neighbors to a game of hopscotch
  16. Call a friend just to say hello
  17. Learn about urban foraging and then see what’s available in your community
  18. Challenge yourself
  19. Reduce food waste by starting a compost bin
  20. Take regular social media and news timeouts
  21. Read a book under a tree


Since we’re celebrating 25 years of inspiring people like you to take responsibility and action for Earth, it’s only fitting we extend the list to 25 actions – so here are four bonus ideas to inspire a fun, rewarding, and adventurous summer:

22. Organize a beach or park clean up
23. Sit in silence outside and listen to the world around you
24. Smile at a stranger
25. Try new vegetarian BBQ recipes, such as grilled peaches or watermelon poke bow



Since our founding in 1993, we’ve given people around the world a framework to talk about our relationship with the planet and to share in discovering new ways to create a sustainable future. 

In honor of our 25th year, please donate $25 – your donation will help us continue improving EcoChallenge and updating our discussion books, as well as create new resources year-round. Your support makes it possible for us to inspire changemakers today and future generations by providing programs for learning about and acting on the most pressing issues of our time. 



What would you add to the list? Please share your ideas and experiences with any of these suggestions.

How are you Beating Plastic Pollution?

It’s a big week for Earth – today is World Environment Day and Friday is World Oceans Day.

Both days are focused on reducing plastic pollution, an incredibly important platform. Today, we produce about 300 million tons of plastic every year – that’s equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. How’d we get here? Find out in this interactive story on plastic from the United Nations.

This week is an invitation—a call to action—for us to come together and commit to changing our habits by avoiding single-use plastic, reusing what we have, and buying less in the first place. The United Nations provides several ideas for how to beat plastic pollution:

  • Pressure food suppliers to use non-plastic packaging
  • Bring your own shopping bags to the supermarket
  • Refuse plastic cutlery and straws
  • Pick up any plastic you see when you’re out walking
  • Carry a refillable water bottle
  • Tell your local officials that you support a ban on single-use plastic bags


We believe World Environment Day and World Oceans Day are not only about adopting new habits; they’re also opportunities to celebrate positive actions we’re already doing to reduce plastic waste.

Do you have tips for reducing plastic when you shop or suggestions for nudging companies to be smarter about packaging? Whatever your practices, we want to hear about them—they could be a springboard to help someone reduce their ecological footprint or take action in their community.  

Tag your tips and what you’re doing to tread lighter on Earth using the hashtags #EcoChallenge #WorldEnvironmentDay #WorldOceansDay #BeatPlasticPollution.

If you’re not on social media, send us an email with your tips. We’ll be sharing your ideas on social media, so be sure you’re following us online.


In our 25-year history we have produced a library of course books that provide a framework to discuss our relationship with the planet and to share in discovering new ways to live, work, and consume. 

We recently updated our most popular course book, Choices for Sustainable Living, and with a focus on plastic pollution, water, and ecological principles, it’s the perfect week to offer you $10 off it using the discount code, “Action4Earth10.” This offer ends June 10.

Choices for Sustainable Living invites you to explore sustainability more deeply and envision a sustainable world from individual, societal, and global perspectives. The new edition uses the online EcoChallenge action platform – the combination of collective inspiration, camaraderie, and friendly competition makes change a little easier — and a lot more fun!

Choices for Sustainable Living Online Course: Connecting and Learning Together

Choices for Sustainable LivingIn our 25-year history, we’ve produced a library of course books used at universities, businesses, and other community settings nationwide.

Our course books provide a framework to discuss our relationship with the planet and to share in discovering new ways to live, work, and consume. In honor of our 25th anniversary, we’ve updated one of our most popular books—Choices for Sustainable Living (CSL)—and have taken it online for a special webinar-style discussion course.

Since May 9, a group of about 30 changemakers have been meeting online weekly to explore sustainability more deeply, and discuss how to make change possible and powerful, both individually and together.

Prior to the start of this special online course, we asked participants why they signed up for CSL and here’s what they had to say:

“I’ve participated in three discussion groups in the past, but am now interested in facilitating them in my neighborhood. I’m intrigued by the online format. My goal is to deepen my ability to truly walk my walk so that I can help others do the same with greater authenticity and compassion.”

“I would like to gain knowledge and practice in changing my own and family’s habits toward more sustainable ways of living, and to gain the knowledge and vocabulary and sensitivity to dialogue with others in ways that might lead them to make choices that are more sustainable.”

“I joined this course because sustainable lifestyle and economic transitions have recently become the focus of my life’s work. I left my full-time job to pursue sustainable consulting work and build my own business in a zero-emissions delivery service. As an avid pursuer of taking a systems perspective, I hope this course will give me insight into innovative, more ethically and environmentally responsible ways of running a business with a foundation in sustainable principles.”   (more…)

A Simplicity Manifesto | Students Respond to NWEI’s Simple Living Book

This spring, ENG 100 students from Kapi’olani Community College in Hawaii participated in Northwest Earth Institute’s A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World discussion course with faculty member Krista Hiser leading. For their final project, students were tasked with collaboratively writing a Simplicity Manifesto modeled on one of the activities in the course book. “I told them to add statements that they felt to be true and meaningful,” shared Krista. “For these kids, these were truly new ideas, so the statements in the manifesto represent transformative new thoughts for them. This is the beginning of a degrowth mindset. They came to these conclusions on their own.”
The second part of the assignment was to highlight and commit to action steps related to living more simply. One student shared, “I
will try to cut down on buying the things I want so that I can start simple living.” Another said, “I will reduce my carbon footprint, turn off electronics when not needed, carpool, ride a bike, and/or walk.” Other students highlighted the goal of taking time every day to enjoy the present moment, buying local products, and living with more awareness of the impact of everyday choices. “I will try to live a simpler life by living with things I think are necessary,” shared another student.
Thanks to Krista Hiser and her ENG 100 students for sharing their experiences. For more information on A Different Way, click here.


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