HPA team among top 10 in global competition

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Jessie Ainslie, center, and new friends, Megan Fuerst of Ohio State University and Jimmy Zhang of Lawton Chiles High School in Florida, learn to cook with organic products at an eco kitchen. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HPA FOR NHN)
Team members Tori Greco-Hiranaka, Jessie Ainslie, and Ari Datta at the opening dinner honoring the finalists.(PHOTO COURTESY OF HPA FOR NHN)

Hawaii Preparatory Academy juniors Jessie Ainslie, Ari Datta, Tori Greco-Hiranaka, and Leila Morrison recently were named finalists in a global competition, Project Green Challenge. The HPA students placed 10th among 3,000 other high school and college teams in a program that aims to raise environmental awareness.

Project Green Challenge consists of 30 challenges in 30 days, each with four levels of engagement—green, greener, greenest, and extra credit. Each day features a different theme, such as food, fitness, and technology. The participants upload their responses, which include YouTube videos and Facebook posts, on the PGC website for judging and scoring. Other challenges include applying for grants, organizing clothing drives, and ranking the “greenness” of many household products

The top 15 teams were invited to send one representative to a three-day eco summit Nov. 22-24 at Green University in San Francisco. Since each member of the HPA team was equally crucial to the group’s success, the team decided to ask the school’s librarian, Lois Inman, to pick its ambassador by drawing a name from a hat. Inman drew Ainslie’s name.

At the conference, Ainslie presented the group’s experiences throughout the challenge and discussed campaigns to make the school more sustainable with environmental leaders from organizations such as the National Resource Defense Council, Whole Foods Market, and the Environmental Working Group. Ainslie also received a special treat—an eco-makeover using all green products; she received many of these products as prizes for winning some of the daily challenges.

One of the goals of Project Green Challenge is to drastically increase every participant’s environmental awareness, leading to a greener lifestyle. However, the team already was ahead of others because of HPA’s focus on sustainability. The group gained a lot insight working at the Energy Lab with lab director Dr. Bill Wiecking, who introduced them to the competition.

One of the challenges involved implementing the Take Back The Tap program, which HPA already had implemented several years ago. Ainslie reflected that being at HPA probably was the team’s greatest advantage.

“Our school is already leaps and bounds ahead of being environmentally conscious,” Ainslie said. “The school really goes above and beyond to support you in all your projects.”

Other than proving the forward-thinking mindset of HPA, the team’s journey inspired each individual to turn the 30-day commitment into a lifelong venture. Ainslie says that after Project Green Challenge, “thinking about the environment has really become second nature. ”

The team is working on many other projects, including beach clean-ups at South Point with members they met at the summit from 5 Gyres, a company that aims to reduce plastics pollution.

“The summit showed me that the passion and energy from a group or even a single person can be contagious,” Ainslie said.

And about all the prizes the successful group received?

“It felt like Christmas!” she said.