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By Ignatian Solidarity Network
Jul 11th, 2017

“The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.” [Laudato Si’ 13]

In May of 2016, in anticipation of the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, the Ignatian Solidarity Network announced the Ignatian Carbon Challenge, a campaign designed to provide tangible resources for action and reflection to support high school institutions’ and individuals’ work toward a more sustainable lifestyle and campus environment.

“The Ignatian Carbon Challenge provides a tangible, focused, and dynamic framework for high schools to live out the call of Laudato Si’,” shares Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. “Now, more than ever, we need to develop young leaders willing to ‘care for their common home’ from where they are—in their schools, their parishes, and their local communities.”

The Ignatian Solidarity Network is a lay-led nonprofit organization in the United States that networks, educates, and forms advocates for social justice animated by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the witness of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador and their companions.

“The Ignatian Carbon Challenge has strengthened a growing community of schools working to integrate their Catholic identity with the imperative to address the environmental problems in our world, as emphasized by Laudato Si’,” says Phil Nahlik, a doctoral student in chemistry at Loyola University Chicago who is focused on curriculum design in Jesuit high schools.

More than 20 schools and 4,500 individuals participated in the 2016-2017 Challenge. Here’s how schools have taken action over the last year:

St. Bonaventure’s College in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada has engaged students in kindergarten through grade 12 in efforts, with water bottle filling stations to reduce disposable water bottle waste, composting and recycling programs, a campus gardening program that benefits a local food bank, and a Farm 2 Cafeteria Canada salad bar in the school cafeteria, through a program that unites local students and farmers. In November, grade 7 students examined the carbon price of their clothing and considered ways to be more sustainable and conscious consumers.

“Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending.” [Laudato Si’ 203]

Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, hit the ground running with Ignatian Carbon Challenge efforts after the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in November. Under the leadership of then-senior Roman Gioglio, the school has installed water bottle filling stations and launched a “Ban the Bottle” campaign, eliminated use of styrofoam plates in the school cafeteria, and has plans in the works to transition from paper towel use with new hand driers throughout the campus. In April, the school held a large-scale trash audit, kicking off an awareness campaign and revamped composting and recycling program at the school.

“Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.” [Laudato Si’ 50]

Carbon ChallengeIn September, students at Cristo Rey San Jose High School combined care for creation and service to the community in a playground revitalization project.

“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” [Laudato Si’ 229]

Numerous schools have participated in challenges that encourage immersion in the natural world. From hikes with classmates and colleagues, to identification of native vegetation, students have been offered opportunities to leave the classroom to “stop and admire something beautiful” in the natural world. Cheverus High School students participated in a guided nature meditation.

“If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour.” [Laudato Si’ 215]

In February, chemistry classes at St. Louis University High School conducted a blind taste test of fair trade versus regular dark chocolate bars.

An assessment of the environmental impact of business ventures and projects demands transparent political processes involving a free exchange of views. [Laudato Si’ 182]

carbon challengeIn December, students from numerous high schools composed a sustainability prayer.

“The creation accounts in the book of Genesis . . . suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself.” [Laudato Si’ 66]

Schools are already preparing for next year’s revamped Ignatian Carbon Challenge, which features expanded institutional challenges and a scoring system, customizable individual challenges, and challenges that address both personal and community sustainability.

Interested in registering your school or classroom in the Ignatian Carbon Challenge? Click here for details and to learn more.