Coming back to college after a summer of backpacking, I felt disillusioned with my classes and the education. My courses involved a lot of reading and writing about important issues that affect me and the world around me, but not actually doing anything about those issues or creating change. I felt stuck behind my desk. I wanted to get my hands dirty. I wanted to be engaged in what I was learning and feel like I was making a difference.
At the end of my first month of school, a friend of mine told me about Project Green Challenge, a.k.a. PGC, a 30-day challenge for college and high school students throughout the month of October. Each day has a different theme related to sustainability and environmentalism that challengers learn about and act upon creatively. The goal: to transform your life from conventional to conscious. No environmental studies experience necessary. Beginners welcome. Those looking to change their lives encouraged.
My friend, PGC 2013 Champion Madeleine Welsch, explained it like this: “it’s a crazy month that will probably change your life, especially if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort.”
I was in. Things around me felt pretty chaotic at the time, so the idea of changing my life on any level very much appealed to me. Plus, I loved the outdoors but had no real understanding of any environmental issues. I wanted to learn and I wanted to learn in a creative, challenging way.
On the first day of PGC, I opened the email from Turning Green and read the day’s challenge on the topic of Organic. I read the topic overview and watched the short video for the day and felt excited and inspired to learn more about organics. The challenges themselves allowed me to take creative actions in my own life and my community based upon on what I had learned.
The rest of the month flew by in an impassioned, sleep-deprived whirlwind full of challenges, prizes (did I mention that there are GREAT prizes available every single day), and lifestyle changes.
Everyday learned about a new topic and took action. I was asked to do things in my community that I would have never felt confident enough to do on my own, but knowing that other students around the world were doing the same gave me the assurance to be bold and create change on my campus. In particular, I learned that I am really passionate about food issues and became involved in the food justice club on my campus.
The greatest changes that I saw, though, were changes in myself and in my lifestyle. I began to see myself as a part of a much bigger picture. All of a sudden I had the knowledge and awareness to understand that my decisions have the power to affect me and the world around me. I realized that I can make choices that respect people and the planet, or I can make choices that harm others and the environment. And all of these things; myself, others, the environment; are inextricably intertwined.
This revelation scared and excited me, but I felt empowered by all of the knowledge that I gained throughout PGC and ready to make educated decisions that I could feel proud of. I stopped buying conventional clothes and started to buy only secondhand or organic, ethically-produced clothing. I started eating differently. I changed my cleaning and body product choices to reduce my chemical exposure. I reduced my daily waste production.
Through PGC’s daily challenges, I finally felt like I was learning by doing. I was gaining knowledge and taking action based upon that knowledge in an engaged, creative way each and every day throughout October. I was more affected by that one month of challenges than I was by a whole semester of classes simply because I was engaged in and connected to everything that I was learning about.
At the end of PGC, I applied and was chosen to be a Finalist. Finalists are selected based upon PGC engagement and have the privilege of being flown out to attend the PGC Finals in San Francisco, where a winner is selected. The biggest part of the Finals, though, is the experience itself. You get to meet the other finalists, as well as incredible eco-leaders from around the country. Each finalist is showered in prizes and praise.
The PGC finals was one of the best weekends of my fall semester. I got to go to San Francisco and spend time with people who inspired me, and eat a lot of FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and non-GMO) foods. My big advice for anyone participating in PGC: if you want to go to the Finals in San Francisco, go for it! You will not regret it. Your life will be transformed and the Finals themselves are incredible (mostly because you will eat the best food of your life. The speakers and prizes are pretty cool, too, but the food is really what it’s about).
Get Involved! Here’s What PGC has Taught Me
- My Voice Matters – It’s easy to feel miniscule and powerless when you’re just one student among thousands, but PGC taught me that if you have the courage to speak up, people will listen. For the Dining Challenge, I ended up meeting with my school’s Director of Dining Services to talk about providing more vegan options on campus – and he actually was interested in what I had to say!
- Knowledge is Power – I have never been so committed to living a sustainable lifestyle before participating in PGC simply because I was not aware of the impacts my everyday decisions had on people and the planet. Every day of PGC you learn about new social and environmental injustices, and once you are informed, it is very hard to not want to change up the system.
- You’re Never Alone – In the fight for environmental sustainability and social responsibility, there’s a lot to go up against. It can get overwhelming, sometimes so much so that you just want to give up. My favorite part about participating in PGC was knowing that thousands of other students, all around the world, were part of a community of like-minded people fighting the same fight!
- To be a Leader, you have to Lead by Example – I had always been an advocate for the environment in theory. But until PGC, I was not truly living in line with my values. PGC gives you the tools and resources to start a more conscious lifestyle, literally changing your life by making you think about every day choices. The result is that people notice your change in behavior – using alternative eco-products, eating healthier and living more mindfully, and they ask questions. And that’s the opportunity to pay it forward!
- Passion is Important – The coolest part about PGC is that it informs participants on such a wide variety of topics, that it’s almost impossible to not become passionate about at least one. Passion gives purpose. And PGC creates an entire community of passionate people who have all gained knowledge and confidence on these life-changing issues, and that is incredibly powerful.
Ultimately, PGC transformed my college experience and allowed me to change my life and my education. I am a much more confident, passionate person I’ve interned for Turning Green ever since the PGC Finals last fall and even got to spend two months of last summer living in California and going on crazy adventures through this amazing organization.