Past Winners of the Lexus Eco Challenge

Congratulations to the Winners of the 2017–2018 Air & Climate Challenge! 


Navajo Prep Flying Eagles, New Mexico
: Sky, Miauaxochitl, Lila, Keona, Xander, Kaylin
Navajo Prep Flying Eagles and teacher advisor Yolanda Flores set out to investigate what is an abnormally high concentration of methane gas in their region. The reasons for this aren't clear, and the students hoped to find out what they could. After acquiring high tech equipment such as methane sensors and carefully analyzing data pertaining to methane emissions in their community and elsewhere, they traced the source to man-made activity. They shared their findings as well as some information on the community’s contributions to climate change via social media, local news outlets, and more.

Operation Sustain, Washington
Rayan, Anne, Parth, Isaac, Fred, Suchi
Operation Sustain saw an opportunity to spread awareness about climate change when they examined elementary school students’ affinity for and inundation with technology. Led by teacher advisors Mike Town and Melissa Wrenchey, the students developed an interactive educational computer game and corresponding curriculum rooted in teaching the fundamentals of climate change. Operation Sustain adhered to academic science standards to explain climate change to younger students, and per their assessment quizzes, saw a 206% increase in the students’ understanding of the subject after administering their game.

Team E-Motion, South Carolina
Jon, Andrew, Jackson, Charlie, Bryce, Tyler
What if kids could generate electricity while exercising? Team E-Motion and teacher advisor Susan LaFlam didn’t think this was a crazy idea. With the goal of spreading awareness about the need for renewable energy, the team got to work on designing toys that convert kinetic energy into electricity—for example, sneakers that store energy from your walk and converts it into electricity to charge your phone. The team’s toys are a big hit, and they’ve contacted manufacturers to gauge their interest in developing similar products.

Beyond the Footprint, Texas
Eric, Shivam, Zain, Samyam, Joey, Tanay
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, almost all the increase in greenhouse gases in the last 150 years is from human activities. Beyond the Footprint looked at the emissions produced by the U.S. meat industry and rolled out a “Meatless Monday” at school to help reduce carbon emissions and draw attention to the subject. Guided by teacher advisor Rebekah Cate, the team collaborated with the school district and a producer of plant-based meat substitutes to serve meatless burgers, sausages, and more in the school cafeteria. They surveyed students about the meals, produced a short film about their project, and contributed a report on meat alternatives to the campus’s TV news broadcast.

Powerfuels, New York
Isabella, Min, Nitish, Anjika, Anshul, Saipranati, Saipranavi
The exhaust from cars and trucks adds significantly to total carbon dioxide emissions in the United States (calculated at 32% in 2018) and is a big contributor to smog. Powerfuels and teacher advisors Michael Giallorenzo and Serena McCalla set their sights on the benefits of biodiesel, a biodegradable fuel produced from waste oil. Engines run cleanly on biodiesel, it’s less combustible and less harmful to the environment than petroleum diesel, and using it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Powerfuels partnered with local labs and businesses; secured used cooking grease from local restaurants to convert to biodiesel; launched a petition to have school buses running on the alternative; presented their ideas and research to classrooms and community members; and lots more.

The Earth Worms, New York
Sarah, Selena, Keertti, Sophia, Jennifer, Razeen
Composting naturally breaks down paper and food waste, which are otherwise significant contributors to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The Earth Worms explored the concept of composting, but looked to have worms do the work. Led by teacher advisors Michael Giallorenzo and Serena McCalla, the team purchased 5,000 red wiggler worms for vermicomposting, by which worms in bins eat and break down waste. The students have distributed the worms and bins to their community, presented to more than 400 people about vermicomposting, have been in touch with companies in China about the practice, and got more than 40 businesses to pledge that they’ll compost, too.

Enerjagers, Ohio
Alicia, Esther, Angelia, Tatyjana, Jadalise, Stephanie, Joslyn
Spreading awareness about reusing materials—instead of throwing them away or spending energy to recycle them—was part of Enerjagers’ efforts to examine their reliance on fossil fuels. Teacher advisor Kristen Schuler and her team decided on producing candles from materials that were otherwise on their way to landfills. Instead of using components that contribute to our fossil fuel dependence, the students reused discarded glassware, crayons, beeswax, and other eco-friendly ingredients. Enerjagers created an instructional video about their candles, partnered with local organizations, shared their ideas with more than 500 people at a summit, and removed nearly 200 pieces of trash from a local beach to use in decorating their candle jars.

Ladue Horton Watkins Superworms, Missouri
Abby, Alice, Antonio, Carolyn, Christopher, Cindy, Eleanor, Faith, Megan
Ladue Horton Watkins worked to counter Styrofoam’s danger to the environment: Its production causes large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and is damaging to the ozone layer; it isn’t recyclable; it can harm us and other animals when ingested; and more. First, teacher advisors Monica Bowman and Katie Kane and their team used flyers, posters, and made T-shirts to get the word out in their community about Styrofoam. They reached out to local researchers and specialists for help with their raising and analysis of mealworms and “superworms,” which are the larvae of darkling beetles, to consume Styrofoam. The team is depositing the worms’ waste in their school garden to fertilize its soil for the growth of nonedible plants.


WMS Wind Wolves, California
Yuko, Emmanuel, Cyana, Tannya, Kendra, Janelle, Jessica
While renewable energy use gains steam in the U.S., carbon emissions from the dependency on fossil fuels still account for the bulk of greenhouse gases. Teacher advisor Susan Pritchard and WMS Wind Wolves researched how to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. They partnered with local energy experts and city officials, are promoting the benefits of solar energy and wind energy to their classmates, are working to have wind turbines installed at school, are having disposable drinking containers replaced on campus, and more.

Air Heroes, Utah
Afton, Mary, Sydney, Sadie, Ruby, Madison
When the Environmental Protection Agency identified their city as having the nation’s worst air quality, teacher advisors Mark Gisseman and JoAnne Brown and Air Heroes knew that they needed to take aim at the issue. They developed a week’s worth of simple contributions for members of their community to make that would help reduce air pollution. The Air Heroes promoted the ideas on social media and incentivized students to take reusable lunch boxes to school, to recycle, to minimize greenhouse gas emissions by conserving electricity, and more.

The Cricketeers, Texas
Cole, Brennan, Garrett, Gary, Cayden
The Cricketeers learned about the impact our food choices can have on greenhouse gas emissions and, relatedly, on climate change. Led by teacher advisor Laura Wilbanks, the students surveyed their community on alternative eco-friendly food choices, which include protein-rich termites, crickets, and lentils. The team partnered with entomologists and a large nonprofit to learn about the food it sends to starving people, talked to professors and local experts about protein, and conducted experiments to research which insects could be eaten for nutritional value. They developed a protein-rich cricket-based powder and baked cookies with it for the community, and did a lot more to spread awareness of their idea.

CO2 Crew, Florida
Lucas, Emily, Caroline, Shayne, Lila, Martin
Teacher advisor Hope Kennedy and CO2 Crew took on ocean acidification—a change in the chemistry of seawater caused by oceans’ removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While aquatic plant life can benefit from this change, the effect on various shellfish and coral is detrimental. CO2 Crew conducted lots of research and planted seaweed in a school lab to study which plants change acidity in seawater. The students created presentations to share their findings on campus and online.

Pollution Solution, New Jersey
Kaitlyn, Abigail, April, Matthew, Gunner, Brian, Katie, Michaela, Julia, Rebecca
Reducing air pollution was top-of-mind for Pollution Solution. Teacher advisor Tara Melchior and her team focused on the constant charging of personal electronic devices and the associated carbon emissions. For a project they called “Pollution Solution Gardens,” the students made space in classrooms and offices for high oxygen-producing plants to counteract fossil fuel pollution. They created information guides about the plants, lesson plans about pollution, and more.

Bottle Buddies, New York
Nichole, Samantha, Trinity, Dominick, Elizabeth, Mishka
While billions of pounds of plastic bottles are thrown away each year, only a modest fraction of those bottles get recycled. Guided by teacher advisor Julie Feltman, the aptly named Bottle Buddies focused on recycling to reduce greenhouse gases. The team aimed to inform the student body at their school about how important recycling is and encouraged their peers to recycle their water bottles on campus. They collected and recycled over 1,000 bottles, are planting trees in plastic bottles to sell and raise funds for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, and more.
Capital Composting, Kentucky
Amir, Clint, Kaja, Lilia, Mykell, Cassie
Capital Composting are pretty excited about composting, and they were even able to get younger students in their school community excited about it, too. And here’s why: When food scraps are broken down in landfills, methane is emitted, which (like carbon) ultimately traps heat and contributes to global warming. Composting is an eco-friendly alternative, and teacher advisor Audrey Bebensee and her team worked to get that message out. The students designed and built mobile compost bins, talked to scientists about composting and partnered with businesses to collect food scraps, created compost bins for families in the community, and are presenting to elementary school classrooms about the process.

WMS Eco-Menders, Michigan
Mallory, Anéla, Griffin, Faith, Rachel, Liam, Makayla
Instead of repairing things when they break, we often toss them in the trash and buy new things—the production of those new products means more carbon emissions. WMS Eco-Menders and teacher advisor Susan Tate wanted to encourage people to think about how often they’re disposing of things that could be fixed and used again instead of going to landfills. The students held a big event in their community to collect broken items and repair them. They partnered with Repair Café, an organization that has supported fixing instead of nixing globally since 2009, gathered volunteers to help them, and marketed their “fix-it” clinic to everyone in town. It was so successful that they’re hosting another event soon and have reserved space at the library to do it on a quarterly basis.

Congratulations to the Winners of the 2017–2018 Land & Water Challenge! 


Plastic Elastic 3.0, New Jersey
Sharon, Albania, Gabriella, Camila, Ariana, Karys
Every time we do a load of laundry, plastic microfibers from our clothes can find their way into our drains and water systems. These microfibers are pollutants that can damage aquatic life, working their way up the food chain. Led by teacher advisors Malissa Yabut and Robert O’Donnell, Plastic Elastic 3.0 researched, built, and exhaustively tested a prototype filter to prevent microfibers from traveling to their water system. The students presented their issue to the mayor’s office and to the school community, and plan to patent and implement their filter in Laundromats statewide.

WMS Tree Titans, California
Cyana, Jessica, Kendra, Janelle, Yuko, Emmanuel, Tannya
WMS Tree Titans recognize the roles that trees play in our lives. They produce oxygen, they provide much-needed shade in the summertime, and more. After having seen a campus-wide loss of trees due to drought and other environmental tensions, the team, led by Dr. Susan Pritchard, introduced a multitiered plan to replant their school’s lost trees and make sure that they’re cared for properly. The students held fundraisers, collaborated with various school district officials, planted 20-plus trees, and more.

Styro-Terminators, New Jersey
Sajoud, Michaela, Giovanna, Jennifer, Layla, Kalya, Juver, Briana
The Styro-Terminators concerned themselves with the environmental dangers of Styrofoam, an unrecyclable material that ends up in our oceans and on land and takes hundreds of years to decompose. The team, guided by teacher advisors Malissa Yabut and Robert O’Donnell, gathered and shared data after monitoring “superworms”—the larvae of darkling beetles—consuming Styrofoam and turning it into waste. Without harming themselves, the larvae break down Styrofoam and other kinds of polystyrene, thus suggesting a natural solution to a giant global problem. Not for the squeamish, but pretty cool.

Green Gals, Colorado
Devon, Piper, Sadie, Kaitlin, Charleigh, Hailey
The Green Gals team honed in on plastic bag use and its environmental dangers, citing the fact that 91% of all the plastic that Americans use gets thrown away or littered rather than recycled. Led by teacher advisor Heather Haney, the students surveyed their school and greater community to determine the popularity of reusable bags in the area. They heard from more than 350 people and shared their findings on their school’s campus and elsewhere, spreading awareness of the eco-hazards associated with plastic bag use.

Team PAN, Florida
Mariam, Keegan, Devyn, Bhavya, Joshua, Abigail, Aiden, Naima, Samuel, Carson
Guided by teacher advisor Kellie Keene, Team PAN’s project was as symbolic as it was a tangible, physical effort. The team created a school garden, but they did so with the use of discarded items that had been donated to them. After the team devised its plan for a school garden, they solicited donations. More than 2,200 discarded milk jugs, tin cans, water bottles, and other items made their way to Team PAN, and instead of going to a landfill, they’re brightening a school campus with vegetable and flower plants inside of them.

Gardeners of the Galaxy, Florida
Callen, Hadyn, Wesley, Daniel, Alessandro, Jonah
It’s all about hydroponic plants with Gardeners of the Galaxy and teacher advisor Lesa Bland. The team explored the benefits of raising plants with the use of a hydroponics system—above ground in a water-based setting that’s rich in nutrients—as compared to traditional farming. The team reported several benefits: Hydroponic plants grow quickly; they don’t require pesticides; and more. The students conducted research, got the word out about hydroponic gardening, planted a garden at school, and plan to donate their produce to a local homeless shelter.

project reservoir
HMS Backyard Backlash, Michigan
: Seojun, Sully, Davin, Logan, Seth, Mercedes, Linda, Sonia, Micaela, Leah
Lake Superior—the largest, coldest, and deepest of the Great Lakes—is under a threat of contamination in places like Michigan due to the area’s large and growing population. HMS Backyard Backlash and teacher advisor Sarah Geborkoff conducted research and met with local scientists to learn about the dangers that synthetic soil and over-fertilization present to freshwater. They carried out soil experiments and planted bluestem grass around their school garden to prevent nitrates from damaging the area beyond its borders. The students shared their findings with their school and local media.

eco warriors
The Hydro Heroes, Kentucky
Hannah, Riley, Luke, Lola, Jackson, Karsten, Ally
Not all heroes wear capes—switching to reusable water bottles is a small but important step that can reduce one’s contribution to the planet’s plastic pollution problem. The Hydro Heroes and teacher advisor Ashlie Arkwright encouraged their community to reuse water bottles rather than buying disposable ones. They secured donations from a reusable bottle company, sold 45 bottles, raffled off bottles, and circulated a pledge about using reusable bottles that earned more than 100 signatures. After the bottle sales and raffle, the team donated all proceeds to victims of recent hurricanes.


project reservoir
The Almighty Algae, New York
: Rishika, Sarah, Riya, Sanjana, Rachelle, Christy
Harmful algal blooms (HABs), which upset marine ecosystems and can be toxic to humans, have been naturally occurring in bays and ponds on Long Island, New York, for years. The Almighty Algae, guided by teacher advisors Serena McCalla and Michael Giallorenzo, chose to call attention to HABs with an informational campaign about their impact on local shellfisheries and more. The team partnered with local biologists, conducted field research, and set up an “Algae Day” in their community to spread the word, but also focused on the algae’s positive uses, such as their role in fertilizer manufacturing. The students collected algae and made their own fertilizer—they sold 50 bags of it and donated the proceeds to a local university for algae research.  

eco warriors
G.R.A.Y. (Greywater Recycling Action Youth), Missouri
Saayli, Sydney, Joseph, Varun, Vanessa
Greywater conservation—which is the conservation of “gently used water” from washing machines, bathroom sinks, and more—was at the center of G.R.A.Y.’s plan. Teacher advisor William Bowman and his team hoped to raise awareness of the concept and decided to design a greywater conservation device. The students collected data with a water usage survey, partnered with local experts, and experimented heavily to determine which material would best fit their device, an apparatus to recycle shower water for use in toilets. A working model for use in homes is on its way—the students are finalizing their plans and are meeting with architects to address water regulations and more.

can you hear me
The Palm Frees, Missouri
Jane, Mia, Brigid, Leena, Allison, Emma, Annie
Palm oil can be found in a wealth of household products—everything from deodorant to ice cream. But producing this oil has an environmental impact, particularly on the rainforests being cut down for it and the wildlife that depend on those rainforests. It became the topic of focus for The Palm Frees. Led by teacher advisors Katie Wilson and Dawn Johnson, the Palm Frees thought: What can we make without palm oil and sell at school to draw attention to the eco-hazards associated with it? The students made and sold their own palm oil–free nail polish, deodorant, and lip balm and donated proceeds to a local wildlife foundation.

Orbis, New York
Gabriella, Zachary, Marc, Katherine, Rohan, Wen, Arianna, Audrey
Nearly 80 of the sinks at team Orbis’s school showed lead levels at the legal threshold when they were tested by the state, a discovery that felt important enough for the students to build an Action Plan around. Teacher advisor Serena McCalla and her students contacted government officials about New York’s water contamination and petitioned the governor to develop and enforce legislation to mandate monitoring every school’s drinking water. They produced videos and a website to spread awareness of the issue, and after extensive research and experimentation, developed a water purifier that uses almond shells to naturally remove lead from water.

WashPod, Oregon
Solomon, Tyler, Andrei, Culla, Katie, Layton
For their Action Plan, teacher advisor Dale Yocum and WashPod focused on improving living conditions for the homeless community while reducing water waste. They found that a lot of water used in their area is wasted, even though greywater (“used” water from showers and sinks) could be filtered and reused. The team purchased a trailer and partnered with a vocational school as well as members of the homeless community to retrofit it for the students’ installation of a shower and laundry facility. Their energy-efficient “WashPod” prototype will recycle greywater and use solar power.

Navajo Prep Flying Eagles, New Mexico
Sky, Jiles, Miauaxochitl, Lila, Keona, Xander, Kaylin
When the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally unleashed approximately 3 million gallons of mining waste into several bodies of water in Colorado in 2015, it contaminated important water sources for the Navajo Prep Flying Eagles’ community (and elsewhere). Led by teacher advisor Yolanda Flores, the team collected water and riverbed samples for careful chemical analysis to determine the exact level of toxicity that their community has encountered since the spill. The students have presented their findings—which indicate a high level of chemical elements and compounds in the Animas River—to their school and greater community.

3D Pneumatic Aerator Creators, Texas
Hunter, Kimmy, Austin, Isabell, Olivia, Ginger
When algae in a body of water increases in size and population at a rapid pace, it’s called a “bloom,” and algal blooms can consume large amounts of oxygen in an ecosystem and produce toxins that can be harmful to humans and the environment. Teacher advisor David McLoda and his students worked to prevent algal blooms from forming and keep their nearby bodies of water oxygenated with a cost-efficient aeration system. After conducting research and setting up a school recycling initiative, they built a prototype aerator with recycled plastics, 3D modeling software, and a 3D printer. They partnered with environmental agencies, and a local university endorsed their aerator design. The aerator is a success, and has been implemented at a nearby lake.

Kayak Club, Texas
Kathryn, Eric, Navya, Michael, Jackson
How can you truly solve a problem without seeing it up close? Kayak Club and teacher advisor Rebekah Cate boarded kayaks and canoes and explored local lakes to observe what kind of environmental issues were affecting them. The students conducted interviews with residents and shared their findings with their community about a significantly deteriorating local dam, pollution from runoff in one of the lakes, and the looming threat that natural gas drilling has on their region. Then Kayak Club went global—they raised funds to purchase and ship enough filters to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to yield more than 5 million gallons of clean water.

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