The How Low Can You Go Challenge, the brainchild of Broward County, FL teacher Linda Gancitano, partners with the NBA’s Miami Heat to empower students in South Florida to cut energy use, waste, and water use in classrooms through fun, engaging school- and district-wide competitions.
What do Oprah and polar bears have to do with Green-Sports?
Everything, according to Linda Gancitano, a Hollywood, FL middle school phys ed teacher and a member of the first US Women’s National Soccer Team to play in a World Cup (Italy, 1985).
You see, back in 2008, Gancitano, not at all an environmentalist nor an activist, was watching The Oprah Winfrey Show when a clip from Al Gore’s Academy Award®-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth aired. “They showed the segment in which a polar bear was trying to move from one sheet of ice to another but couldn’t do it due the melting ice,” said Gancitano, “The polar bear later died. I was deeply moved. I had never been an activist of any kind before but this inspired me to get off the sidelines and get involved in the climate change fight.”
The now-inspired Gancitano meditated and strategized, with the result being the How Low Can You Challenge, a school-based program now entering its fourth year that puts in students’ hands the ability to cut energy use in classrooms through school- and district-wide competitions.
In its first three years, How Low Can You Go has become a South Florida green success story. Year One (2013-2014) saw 64 Broward County schools participate for one month of energy/water/waste reduction and monitoring (schooldude.com allowed students to enter their measurements). The results: an electricity usage reduction of 1 million kWh for a savings of approximately $35,000. In Year Two (2014-2015), the program grew (82 schools, conducted for three months) and so did the impact: Three month electricity usage reductions of 4.5 million kWh led to savings of $143,000. Last year, Gancitano and her HLCYG partner and middle school teacher Elaine Fiore, broadened the program’s reach to include neighboring Palm Beach and Miami Dade counties. While final results are still being tabulated, it’s safe to assume that the number of participating schools and the amount of electricity and water saved, and waste diverted from landfill grew significantly.
Key to How Low Can You Go’s early success has been its partnership with the Miami Heat. TV also played a role in Gancitano getting to the NBA club. “I was watching a local news segment about the Heat and their social responsibility programs. thought ‘I have to get the Heat on board!’ Pretty soon I was in touch with Jackie Ventura, the club’s Head of Operations and Sustainability. I invited her to come to speak at a Career Day at school and it was not long before the Heat joined HLCYG. They have been great to work with.”
The Heat rewards the school that wins HLCYG with 40 tickets to a home game during NBA Green Week (in April, around the time of Earth Day), an on-court ceremony, plaques, banners and a pep rally at the school. Second and third place schools are honored with mentions during the game from the public address announcer.
The 3-time NBA champions are a natural partner for How Low Can You Go: AmericanAirlines Arena earned LEED Gold Recertification in 2014 due, in part, to its solar reflective roofing materials and water efficient landscaping. But the Heat didn’t stop there—last November the Arena unveiled an elegant, energy efficient solar pavilion as part of a multi-year clean energy partnership with NRG. And then there’s Re-Heat, in which the team donates unused food to the Miami Rescue Mission—over 33,000 lbs of food has been donated in the program’s first seven years.
News of How Low Can You Go started to spread beyond South Florida: As Year Four was set to begin this August, Gancitano and Fiore found themselves at the White House for its Sports-Climate Change Roundtable, hosted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Gancitano was named a White House “Champion of Change” for climate education. And the White House listed How Low Can You Go as one of the top green-sports initiatives in the US on the first Green Sports Day (October 6).
The How Low Can You Go Challenge had a seat at the White House Roundtable for Climate and Sports in August. (Photo credit: The White House)
Not surprisingly, Gancitano and Fiore are not resting on their laurels. “Involving Heat players in the program directly by getting them to come to How Low Can You Go schools is an important next step.” Bringing HLCYG to new markets and sports is also at the top of their agenda. “The Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals of the NHL are interested in working with us next year,” enthused Gancitano, “And there are a number of other teams across several sports who are interested. Our only limits right now are bandwidth and resources.”
Linda Gancitano (c) and Elaine Fiore (r) of the How Low Can You Go Challenge, along with Jackie Ventura (r), Head of Operations and Sustainability for the Miami Heat, at the White House Roundtable of Climate and Sports in August. (Photo credit: Laura Petes, The White House)
GreenSportsBlog expects Gancitano and Fiore will remain very busy with How Low Can You Go as any team with a sustainability effort (which now means most professional sports teams and many major college athletic departments) would stand to benefit from participating.
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