A few days into the Project Green Challenge—a 30-day environmental challenge for teens and college students—Raychel Santo wasn't sure she was going to finish. "It was midterms, and I wasn't getting much sleep," she said. "But then I realized that I was learning more from the project than from many of my classes."
Santo threw herself into the rest of the daily projects, such as learning about water conservation and chemicals in cleaning products. Before long, she was announced the 2011 winner of the challenge—and recipient of the $15,000 grand prize package. We chatted with Santo, now a junior at Johns Hopkins University majoring in public health studies and global environmental change and sustainability, to find out what eco lessons she learned from the challenge—and the changes she wants everyone to make for the planet.
Whole Living: What did you learn from the Project Green Challenge?
Raychel Santo: I learned that one person can have an impact. For one of the challenges, I had to list 10 things that I was going to do to have a more sustainable lifestyle on Facebook. Afterwards, my friends brought up my choices: Some asked me about the most eco-friendly dish soaps and laundry detergents, and one mentioned that he was going to stop using drinking straws in restaurants, too. I think teens and college students are really interested in saving the environment, but many don't know where to begin.
WL: Did you have a favorite challenge?
RS: There were so many good ones! In one fitness challenge, I had to calculate how much energy I would save by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. All of my friends made fun of me, because I lived on the sixth floor. I also learned so much about the chemicals used in growing and processing cotton. It hadn't occurred to me that buying organic fabric was important before.
WL: What green projects are you working on now?
RS: As part of the Project Green Challenge final, I worked on a sustainable cookbook for college students using local produce. Another pet peeve of mine was the care packages parents can buy for their kids during finals; they're filled with junk food. We worked on getting ones that contain organic treats and fruit. I'm also really passionate about food justice, so I'm working on showing the documentary A Place at the Table at my university.
WL: If there was one sustainable practice you could make all people adopt, what would it be?
RS: Giving up plastic bottles and bags. It's so easy to switch a water bottle and reusable bag!