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07.09.08

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'Rally' for the Planet

New website encourages team effort at carbon reductions

By Gianna De Persiis Vona


I like to think of myself as noncompetitive. I don't care if I win, because I never do anyway. However, there is something about a good old-fashioned, intellectually challenging competition that really gets me going. This is why, when I started my own Carbon Rally team, the Seb-Town Rockers, I decided to go straight for the big guys, the Royal Acorns, a team of 17 self-proclaimed tweens who, from the looks of their picture, all attend the same private girls school.

The Royal Acorns, with the guidance of their team leader, Carbon Cruncher, are kicking serious carbon ass. Since joining, they have reduced 13.77 tons of carbon, and this game has only existed since April 2007. Granted, the Royal Acorns have some things in their favor. They are, for example, too young to drive. Also, they have the benefit of youthful vigor.

I, however, am not to be deterred, and after interviewing Carbon Rally's Jason Karas, I set about putting together a team that I believe will, given enough time, take the Royal Acorns down. In about 10 minutes, I am able to create a Seb-Town Rockers account, invite people, come up with a team motto ("No more excuses!") and take about three carbon challenges. I email everyone I know. This is not a lot of people, but within the week most of them join. Now, I have a team of 11 people. Together, we have already saved 317 pounds of carbon, and I'm pretty sure no one is cheating. As Karas so aptly tells me, what's the point of cheating when the entire point of the exercise is to feel good about yourself? The only thing anyone can win from this is the sense of wellbeing that comes from a job well done and some stiff competition.

What Karas and his team have created is not just an Internet site that educates and empowers people regarding the climate crisis, but one that is fun to use. The challenges may seem simple enough: agree not to eat meat two days this week, don't use a disposable water bottle for the next seven days. These are small things, but ultimately, all are tasks that can be scientifically measured and accounted for, and best of all, they compound.

Each task comes with clearly stated information—details of the challenge, rules of the challenge and a fancy-looking math equation that shows how not accepting this particular challenge uses carbon and to what degree. There are location maps and graphs, and members can suggest potential challenges for weeks to come.

As I settle into my new role as team leader, I take my cues from knowledgeable sources. Karas suggests that a good team leader is not passive, but rather active and strong. He speaks highly of the Royal Acorns. In fact, he is the one who pointed them out to me in the first place. He also mentions Kevin Schlabach, team leader for a corporate team called Beyond Green. Karas, who feels that the Carbon Rally participants are the life-giving force of the site, arranges for me to talk with Schlabach. I do my research and discover that Schlabach's team of 31 people has saved 3.15 tons of carbon thus far.

 Via email, Schlabach tells me of the importance of keeping the team engaged while making sure the team environment is positive and supportive. Schlabach has been an active member for six months. He was the 540th person to join Carbon Rally, and he created the 49th team. There are now over 280 teams and over 3,500 members, half of whom do not belong to a team at all but operate as individuals.

Schlabach and his team members have the benefit of being co-workers at Beyond.com, the world's largest network of niche career communities—whatever that means. Schlabach sees his teammates every day, thereby affording himself an excellent opportunity to apply a little peer pressure. As good as Beyond Green may be, however, they are still behind the Royal Acorns by a number of tons, which makes them seem less of a threat to the Seb-Town Rockers.

The Royal Acorns have 366 comments on their team page. Beyond Green has 41. The Seb-Town Rockers have 12. At this point, I feel fairly confident that, with enough rigorous attention on my part, combined with the fantastic commitment of the Seb-Town Rockers team, we will soon be measuring our carbon in the tons and our team messages in the thousands.

Already, I have cut my car idle time by minutes on a daily basis, cut my meat eating back by two days a week and refrained from buying a single plastic water bottle. Yesterday, I agreed to compost for two months. A few of the Seb-Town Rockers have complained that they need more challenges. Then they tell me they already do most of these things anyway. "Well, do it again," I snap. "And this time, do it for the team."

To join Carbon Rally, go to [ http://www.carbonrally.com/ ]www.carbonrally.com.

The challenges seem simple enough but they add up to a lot of carbon saved.


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