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Challenging Ourselves

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By Ben Eckstein, Energy & Sustainability Reporter

During winter, people are likely to use more energy: to light and heat their homes, their offices, and their schools. I do not mean to suggest that this increase during the cold season is wrong, rather that there needs to be an awareness of the impact of energy production on the earth.

One way that Darrow School is trying to help its community to reach that realization is through our participation in the Green Cup Challenge (GCC). The GCC is a national program in which participant schools monitor and track their energy usage over a period of four weeks spanning January and February. The main purpose is to measure electricity use through those months when consumption is highest; but the larger purpose is to teach students, teachers, and staff how and why they should conserve energy. The 2013 Challenge began January 16th and ended on February 13th. In its eighth year of participation, Darrow School realized a larger reduction than in previous years, due in part to recent campus-wide upgrades such as replacement of bulbs and ballasts with more energy-efficient units. Reductions can also be attributed to the awareness campaign that included the use of a real-time display of use data, and “competitions” that pitted various student and faculty residences against each other. At Darrow, bragging rights about which dormitory can conserve the most electricity carry significant weight. 

The GCC is directed at students, and it is their work and commitment that creates results. Over the past few weeks, I and two other students have been trudging through the cold in order to read all 25 electric meters around campus. This data is recorded, and later entered into a spreadsheet that calculates how much electricity is used each week. This spreadsheet is managed by students, with the help of Craig Westcott, Director of the Samson Environmental Center and Hands-to-Work program. After the numbers are analyzed, we enter them onto the GCC website. (Click here to follow Darrow’s progress online.)

As part of the Challenge, each participating school was asked to create a sustainability-inspired video, unique to their institution. This is not a professional film made to promote the school; instead, it is a maximum three-minute, student-made video that illustrates how they interpret the concept of sustainability. Some schools took a more serious approach, while others had a comedic style of presenting. For instance, Rye Country Day School produced a short documentary of a student that dresses as a green man running around school promoting proper recycling and “staying green.” Darrow’s video took a musical approach, with students and faculty singing the spiritual, Let Your Little Light Shine, while the images showed students working on the Challenge and other sustainability efforts during the Hands-to-Work program. (Click below to see Darrow’s GCC video).

One of Darrow’s  student videographers, Dan McCorkle, said:  “Working on the Green Cup Challenge video helped me to not only take more time to consider how to create a sustainable environment here at school, but also to feel much more a part of the effort to make Darrow a greener place. One of the cool things that happened while making the video was that we had to sit down and create a list of things to film that show how we save energy, and how we stay sustainable. In doing this we had to think about ways that our school was working towards our goal. In the end, I think, we were all left with a greater understanding of how we could help and a greater sense of responsibility towards our community.” Dan is just one of many Darrow students who have been positively affected by this movement.

The Green Cup Challenge is an important competition in which all schools should participate. It’s not always easy (and it’s not supposed to be) because we are competing among ourselves, as well as with other schools. But the ideas and lessons we have learned are invaluable, and I hope participants will remember them even after the competition is over. I also hope others will be inspired by the work of all these students and take steps in their own lives to monitor and reduce their energy consumption.

So I ask you, care to take the challenge?

Ben Eckstein lives in Canaan, NY, and is a junior at Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY (for more information, visit At Darrow, he serves as a prefect in the school's Hands-to-Work program, as an Admissions prefect, and an Art and History prefect. Ben was recently inducted into Darrow's chapter of the Rho Kappa Honors Society, which recognizes outstanding achievement in social studies. He also runs on the cross-country team and competes on the Ultimate Frisbee team. In college, Ben hopes to study the environment and outdoor education. You can reach Ben by comments to this blog or via Member Email.


Gearing up for the Green Cup Challenge

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