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Have you ever wondered what your carbon footprint is? Or considered how much water it takes to have a shower? Ever pondered how far your lunch had to travel to get to your plate? (Shell)

Have you ever wondered what your carbon footprint is? Or considered how much water it takes to have a shower? Ever pondered how far your lunch had to travel to get to your plate?


Inspiring Kids to Think About Energy: Shell’s Classroom Energy Diet Challenge Add to ...

Have you ever wondered what your carbon footprint is? Or considered how much water it takes to have a shower? Ever pondered how far your lunch had to travel to get to your plate?

Kids across Canada are asking these questions and more, thanks to the Classroom Energy Diet Challenge (CEDC), a dynamic, national program that combines environmental awareness with friendly competition.

Now in it’s third year, the CEDC was created by Shell Canada and the Canadian Geographical Society to encourage energy literacy in kids, says Darlene Klassen, social investment advisor at Shell Canada.

“The purpose is to help young people understand where energy comes from, how it’s used, and how it can be more wisely used, and at the same time give educators and teachers access to tips and resources,” she said.

This past school year, about 30,000 Canadian students from kindergarten to grade 12 took part in the CEDC, which is divided into three streams: In the Classroom Challenge, students take part in 25 energy-related, curriculum-linked assignments. The more challenges a class completes, the more points they earn towards prizes for their class. In the Video Contest, students write, direct and produce a public service announcement teaching others how to reduce their energy use. In the Green Your School Contest, classrooms can compete for a $10,000 cash prize to implement a project that reduces their school’s carbon footprint. (This year’s winner was St. Mary’s School in Huntsville, Ontario, who won $10,000 towards creating an outdoor classroom.)

Ellen Curtis, manager of educational programs at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, says that she and her colleagues have been amazed at the ingenuity of the students who take part in the challenges.

“When they submit [their proof] and we review it, we’re like, ‘I never thought of it like that! That’s such an interesting and innovative way to approach a problem,’” said Ms. Curtis. “In such a great way, when kids think of an idea, they don’t think of the ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or the ‘buts’ that come with it.”

The 25 themes for the Classroom Challenges include almost every aspect of energy use and conservation. For example, in “Green Innovations,” students design new products to make the world more energy efficient. In “Water Works,” students look at how much water they are using and explore reduction strategies. In “Letter to the Editor,” students are encouraged to write to a media outlet or local government about an energy-related issue.

Ms. Klassen says she has seen first-hand how enthusiastically the children engage with the Classroom Challenge. While travelling in Caledon, Ontario, she happened upon a coffee shop and noticed some art on the wall made from recycled materials.

“I went over to take a look, and discovered it was one of the classes in Caledon that was competing in the CEDC,” she said. “They had made art out of garbage from their classroom and a coffee shop in their community had put it on display. I had a chance to talk to those kids and they were so proud of their work, and so innovative in what they made.”

One popular challenge is “Track Your Trash,” where kids “audit” the garbage and recycling at their school, going through it by hand to see what is being thrown away. It can be a very eye-opening exercise, says Ms. Klassen.

“With one classroom, I watched their faces as they went through [the garbage], and at one point, they found pencils that weren’t even sharpened. They were absolutely appalled at what was being thrown away,” she said.

Another popular challenge is “One Hour, No Power,” where classrooms see how long they can go without power. This year, the 180 classrooms that submitted the “One Hour, No Power” challenge went for a total of 1036 hours with no power – the equivalent of 43 days. Because of the “Get Growing” challenge, where students learn about photosynthesis and the role it plays in carbon offsetting, there are 58 new gardens growing at participating schools.

All across the country, the response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive, says Ms. Curtis.

“The students have these ‘a-ha’ moments like, ‘I never thought of energy like this,’ or, ‘I never realized every time I take the bus instead of walking my footprint is bigger,’ or ‘I never thought of comparing how I live to someone who lives in a third world country.’” she said. “It’s really making positive change in their lives. And we encourage the kids to take what they’ve learned in school and apply it to their own home and talk to their family and really get them involved.”

Although the general themes stay the same each year – energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy conservation and our carbon footprint – the actual challenges change, so that kids and teachers will be motivated to try something new.

Shell Canada is hoping that as students go through each phase of the Challenge, it will have a lasting impact on the decisions those students make in the future, says Ms. Klassen.

“Ultimately, we want them to learn to think critically about energy, to develop energy-conscious decision-making skills and then pass that knowledge along, not only at home but in their communities,” she said.

“Those are the first steps towards changing how we as a society use energy, and we believe smarter kids will become wiser energy users in the future.”

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department, in consultation with Shell. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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