By Rose Kelsch King

 

It’s been nearly two months since students in SE Portland headed back to school. Homework, spending time with friends, and the next big sporting event are at the top of the mind for many.

EcoChallenge team

EcoChallenge team

Henry Easton Koehler, a senior at Cleveland High School, is thinking about something else that’s important to him—protecting the planet.

The son of a renewable energy consultant, Koehler is no stranger to sustainability. He was raised in a green home, discovering ways to lessen his impact at a young age. After learning more about challenges facing our planet, he felt compelled to take action and inspire those around him.

Northwest Earth Institute’s EcoChallenge offered Henry Koehler the opportunity to do just that.

“I took an environmental science and the class really motivated me,” said Koehler. “Everyone can help do their part.”

He learned about the EcoChallenge through a friend and saw it as the perfect opportunity to make a difference for the planet. The EcoChallenge is an annual event. This year, the challenge ran from October 15-30.

Here’s how it works:

First, participants set one goal to reduce their environmental impact. There are five categories to select from: water, energy, food, waste or transportation. The idea is to pick a stretch goal, something that takes participants outside their comfort zone. Then, for two weeks, participants take action toward that goal.

When taking on this year’s challenge, Koehler decided it would be more fun if he could get his peers to join him.

“I like that everyone gets to choose their own way to help the environment,” he said. “It’s a great way to reflect on our own habits and make personal changes. I wanted to make sure more people participated. ”

Using social media, the Cleveland High School student web page and face-to-face conversations, Koehler inspired 16 of his classmates to join him in the EcoChallenge. In addition to building participation for the event, he also saw this as way to talk about the planet.

“Overall, I got a really positive response. It was a great opportunity to educate my peers about why the EcoChallenge matters,” he said.

Together, Cleveland High School students took small actions that added up to real change. Koehler cut his shower time down to an impressive one-minute and biked to school every day. His classmates challenged themselves by turning down the thermostat, eating local organic foods, and unplugging cellphone chargers when not in use.

It wasn’t always easy for the Cleveland High School students, but having the support of others made a difference. Portland residents don’t have to wait until next year’s EcoChallenge to discover change.

The Northwest Earth Institute invites others to create their own community of change throughout the year with ten self-facilitated discussion courses on a variety of sustainability topics that can help inspire your community at work, home and school.

The objective is simple: to give people a framework to talk about our relationship with the planet with friends, neighbors, classmates and coworkers, and to find solutions that work for their own lives and their own communities.

Learn more about courses that help build community and drive engagement. www.nwei.org