EcoChallenge Results, Abby Gureski Wins Grand Prize

May 15, 2020

This spring, with support from Undergraduate Student Government, Staff Council, and Changemaking, the Office of Sustainability Initiatives launched its first ever Campus EcoChallenge. Over 265 St. Thomas students and employees competed on 7 different teams to create the most impact over a two-week period, using a web-based app to track eco-friendly actions for points. With challenges in categories ranging from wellness to waste, food and energy, the EcoChallenge offered participants a wide variety of actions that provided easy ways to advance sustainability. During this period of social distancing, many participants found that the EcoChallenge was also a great way to stay connected to the St. Thomas community while advancing their personal growth and knowledge related to the environment.

During this semester’s competition, the engagement of our students and employees resulted in the University of St. Thomas reaching 3rd place among over 140 other institutions on the EcoChallenge’s national leaderboard. This is no small feat and demonstrates our community’s commitment to advancing the common good, even as we are spread apart. In our intra-university competition, our top three teams were:

  • 1st place: Class of 2023 with 8783 points
  • 2nd place: Faculty & Staff with 8106 points
  • 3rd place: Class of 2021 with 6483 points

The Office of Sustainability Initiatives extends its gratitude to all of the other teams that participated as well. Although the EcoChallenge is structured as a competition, its main goal is to produce a collective impact. Altogether, St. Thomas students and employees achieved the following results over the two week challenge period:

  • Reduced 3166 lbs of CO2
  • Saved 3948 gallons of water
  • Made 399 meatless or vegan meals
  • Diverted 398 plastic bottles from the landfill
  • Spent 3568 minutes learning about sustainability and environmental justice
  • Spent 2842 minutes meditating or being mindful


We congratulate Abby Gureski, a member of the Class of 2021 team, who scored the highest number of points among every St. Thomas participant and won the competition’s grand prize! Recently, we had the chance to connect with Abby over email. As a COJO major and the Junior Class President, Abby’s leadership extends beyond this competition. We are excited to share a few highlights from Abby’s reflections on her EcoChallenge experience:


1. How did you first hear about the EcoChallenge? What inspired you to join?

“I heard about the EcoChallenge via the University Instagram posts, and I believe by word-of-mouth. I was inspired to join for two reasons. First, I wanted to create a positive change in a time of uncertainty. Due to constraints with COVID-19 and stay at home orders, I knew I would not have access to my usual resources at St. Thomas. But when I saw the announcement about the challenge, I knew this was the right challenge for me to partake in and better myself as well as my surrounding environment in any way possible. My second reason was my interest in becoming more eco-friendly. It is easy to buy a plastic straw and tell people you are green, but it is a challenge to look at your habits and decide to make a change. I have transitioned to more reusable products in my everyday life, and I am undergoing more research in how to better myself and our environment. I decided to make changes in my life during a time of constant change within society. It was imperfect, but perfect timing for the challenge to occur during this time of social distancing.”

2. What daily actions did you complete most frequently? Were there any interesting one-time actions you completed? How was that experience?

“Some daily actions I completed most frequently were: going on daily walks for an hour or two, de-cluttering my room and donating/recycling unneeded items, used only reusable coffee cups with reusable straws, practiced more gratitude in my life with personal thought and journal entries, did research towards Eco-friendly companies and methods, and exercising. This experience was very educational and eye-opening.

I appreciated the format this challenge took, because multiple options (challenges) were presented with an opportunity for reflection. This was the best part, because it was not just another contest at school. These reflections made you stop for one moment in the daily chaos of life, to reflect and process how these actions were not only important to yourself, but to the betterment of society and environment around us. This experience kept me on my toes, checking everyday for a new opportunity to practice healthy habits, and connect with others in the class in the common goal of challenging ourselves for the common good.”

3. Are there any new behaviors you have continued to practice since the competition ended?

“Some new behaviors I continue to practice, would be: constantly checking, educating, and being creative. I am constantly checking for ways to be better health wise, and environmentally conscious. I strive to educate myself on matters more closely rather than dismissing them. For example, I did not realize how much water it takes to produce red-meat products until I found more articles about this issue. I have started to eat less red meat which is helping my health, and hopefully making a small change to the production of meat and usage of water. The last one was being creative. Because of my walks, gratitude checks, and healthy habits, I have felt more positive in my daily life, and unlocking sides to myself I had gotten out of touch with.”

4. What new knowledge, skills, or inspiration did the EcoChallenge help provide?

“The EcoChallenge eased my fears about improving my life choices. I was a little nervous, thinking that it would be a huge sacrifice that would be impossible to achieve. But through the daily actions, this EcoChallenge demonstrated that these steps towards improving do not happen overnight. These changes must take time, a little bit at a time can easily be feasible. These challenges, as I eased them more into my daily schedule, are becoming habits, and are no longer just challenges today.”

5. Would you like to see more events like this in the future?

“I would LOVE to see more events like this in the future! I was nervous about not being good enough to participate, because I am not perfect. Once in a while I use a plastic fork, or I have a big cheeseburger. But if we demonstrate how easy it is to make small changes that will result in bigger changes in the future, I would say that would be a marvelous outcome for not only the challenge, but the environment as well.”


We thank everyone who participated in the EcoChallenge, we couldn't have done it without you! We hope you continue to stay involved and help advance sustainability at the University of St. Thomas and in your community. To learn more, explore our website or check out the university’s sustainability strategic plan.