Dozens of colleges and thousands of college students are participating in the Net Impact Small Steps, Big Wins Challenge.  The challenge, which wraps up on April 28, is designed to encourage college students to make many small steps and the combined effect of these thousands of small steps is big wins; big wins for the environment and big wins for the communities that house these colleges.

As of this morning, Penn State is currently in second place with 69,541 points.  Points are earned when a student commits to, and completes, a specific challenge.  For example, students that attended an Earth Day event on Monday earned 25 points.  If a student commits to a vegetarian diet for a day, she would earn 15 points.

Elizabeth Peterson, a Community, Environment, and Development major at Penn State serves as that school’s Small Steps, Big Wins Campus Director.  Ms. Peterson shared her personal experiences with the challenge in an email question and answer session.

MNN: How did you hear about the Small Steps Big Win Challenge?

Peterson: I heard about the Small Steps, Big Wins Campus Challenge through a very awesome student run organization here on campus called Penn State Net Impact Undergraduate. The organization was founded in January 2013 and recently opened the group up to new members in April 2013. I first heard of this group through Penn State Net Impact Undergraduate and was instantly interested. Through this group I was able to have the amazing opportunity of becoming Campus Director of Small Steps, Big Wins.

Why did you decide to participate in the challenge?

I started to participate in the challenge a few weeks ago, as did the rest of my peers. I have always been interested in “going green” and being sustainable, but the reason I wanted to join the challenge and become the Campus Director was because I wanted to create awareness and show my entire campus community how easy it can be to make sustainable life changes. My personal goal, as well as Penn State Net Impact Undergraduate's, is to come in first place in Small Steps, Big Wins in the upcoming school year.

What kind of activities are Penn State students doing to reduce their environmental impact?

Penn State students participate in everyday actions that reduce their environmental impact. For example, riding public transit and walking to class instead of personally driving to campus helps reduce carbon emissions  Using refillable water bottles on a daily basis reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfills since not all plastic is recycled. Penn State Net Impact Undergraduate is a new organization working on its first large project involving printer cartridges. We are working on having both faculty and students recycle all waste streams that are involved with their printer cartridges, including the packaging. With such an enormous campus the success of this project could save a copious amount of waste from being distributed into landfills. We are hitting the ground running with the amount of opportunities that have surfaced to our attention. The amount of interest in our organization has been abundant and truly inspiring. So many students have been searching for an opportunity to make an environmental difference in our Penn State Community and we will make a difference.

What are the most popular steps taken by students at Penn State?

I would say two of the most popular “small steps” taken by Penn State students are “walk or take public transit” and “use a refillable mug”. These actions are so convenient for us at Penn State with 24 different bus routes and refillable water bottle stations and water fountains in almost all the buildings on campus. These small steps are very easy to do, but we still need to raise awareness of these opportunities to the entire Penn State Community. Penn State Net Impact Undergraduate will work on having more refillable water bottle stations placed in all buildings in the near future so that this action can be obtained by more and more students and help increase awareness on the importance of plastic waste reduction.

Has the challenge helped raise awareness about the environment and society at Penn State?  If so, how?

We are still working hard to have this challenge be transmitted throughout the entire Penn State Community. We have only been participating in the challenge for about 2 months and the fact that we have risen up the Leaderboard to number #2 really shows how much of a dedicated group of people we have at Penn State and the visions we have for the challenge next semester are really exciting. We can’t wait to raise more awareness about the environment and how actions such as volunteering for a day can affect our community in the upcoming Fall semester!

Would you recommend the challenge to other schools?  If so, why?

I would definitely recommend the Small Steps, Big Wins Campus Challenge to other schools. It brings together your community for a very important cause. A little competition in the process never hurt anyone and it will push you to achieve “big wins” in your community! If all campuses participated in this challenge I truly believe it would change the future of our entire country for the best. The actions you practice in college through this challenge will really stick with us after we graduate, we will be able to bring these practices and hopefully new habits to our future workplace and communities. 

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