Jeff Philip (back middle in beige shirt) of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 stands with Tesla STEM High students while they are honored for their “Schools Under 2C” project on Tuesday. STEM instructors are also pictured at the ceremony at the Redmond school. Courtesy of Jon Knorr

Tesla STEM students honored, talk shop on reducing CO2 emissions

Students from Redmond’s Tesla STEM High School received an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their work to reduce the carbon footprint of their school and at home.

The 13 students who started the “Schools Under 2C” program from Tesla were among students from 13 states to receive the 2016 President’s Environmental Youth Award.

Anne Lee, president of the Tesla program, said its purpose was twofold.

“The whole goal of this wasn’t just a compliance campaign, but to start an education campaign,” she said.

This included composting programs, light use reduction plans and developing a transportation application where students can track how they got to school. Greener forms of transportation, such as biking or walking, earn more points that can be collected and redeemed for prizes by students.

Other forms of transportation included carpooling or using public transit. Tesla currently has a process for letting students track their commute, but the app developed by the group makes it easier for students to get involved.

Fred Qin, compliance director for the program, said their goal was to reduce CO2 emissions by 28 percent based on factors they could control.

Many of these fixes boiled down to basic changes, like asking teachers to turn off lights for at least one-and-a-half hours every day or composting.

“It’s a really simple behavioral issue rather than a technological issue,” Qin said.

In a press release issued by the EPA, Administrator Scott Pruitt praised the students.

“We are pleased to honor these impressive young leaders, who demonstrate the impact that a few individuals can make to protect our environment,” he said. “These students are empowering their peers, educating their communities and demonstrating the STEM skills needed for this country to thrive in the global economy.”

Besides just being competitive nationally, the students are also expanding the “Schools Under 2C” program globally.

Lee said they have been in contact with schools from Nepal, the Philippines, Sweden and New Zealand. The press release said at least 30 schools across the country and globally had signed onto the program.

“A lot of people from around the world were ready to take action in their communities,” Lee said.

Mike Town, Tesla teacher and program sponsor, praised his students for taking the initiative.

“It is exciting to watch our students develop a proactive program to address solutions to climate change in our school while educating students in other schools about the need to contain the increase of global temperatures to below 2 degrees,” he said in a press release.

But why are the students at Tesla taking climate change into their own hands?

Rayan Krishnan, the group’s tech department leader, said national politics helped inform their decision to start the program last fall.

“We couldn’t cast a vote for this election,” he said.

Even still, Krishnan said students at the high school knew they had to do something to “show that this generation is supporting these entities and their efforts” to reduce carbon emissions and help head off global warming’s effects.

Lee said that the program will continue over the summer months and into next year, where they hope to continue expanding its reach and effectiveness.

“We just really can’t wait to see where we’ll head next year,” she said.

Students honored from Tesla include Qin, Krishnan, Roshan Nair, Ranveer Thind, Yogitha Sunkara, Tyler Volta, Thomas Dulski, Anna Vasyura, Bryn Allesina-McGrory, Lee and Isaac Perrin.

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