Conservation Generation: Doing Good Work

Seth Herschthal, M Ed, and Avi Djanogly
March 2015

At Blue Star, as at many camps, we care passionately about healing the planet. As third generation owners/directors, we are humbled and honored to continue and deepen the long tradition of social justice that breathes at the core of our good work at camp.

Big Data from Blue Star Camps:

  • Saved 337,025 gallons of water last summer at Blue Star Camps (includes over 200 “low-flow” shower heads and faucet aerators replaced at no cost)
  • Saved $450–$500 on the energy bill last summer as a result of reduction in use of hot water (over 10-year lifetime of showerheads and faucets total savings will amount to approximately $10,000)
  • Camper and staff camp travel carbon pollution mitigated (includes 500 trees planted) – 500 tons
  • Eight hundred fifty campers and 300 staff participated
Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist and education professor at Harvard (who came up with the concept of multiple intelligences), defines “good work” in part as being personally engaging, carried out ethically, and in service of the wider good. One of the myriad ways we bring to life the core Jewish value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) is by encouraging our campers and staff to take part in service learning connected to our theme for each summer.
 
In previous summers we have introduced recycling programs, run a strong nature program, and practiced “leave no trace” camping. Yet when faced with the daunting reality of putting into action a meaningful environmental stewardship program to engage our entire camp community, we were stumped. When visioning our commitment we came across these essential questions:
 
  • Is camp an appropriate place to put into effect an environmental stewardship program?
  • Does it matter to our campers, parents, and staff?
  • How can we conserve cost effectively?
  • So with programs provided by Gabi H20’s Conservation Generation, an organization (founded by camp alumnus Avi Djanogly) on a social mission to conserve our natural resources with an emphasis on water, we set out to answer those questions. We found the following:
  • Ninety-five percent of camp owners/directors who responded to the American Camp Association’s March 2014 Survey are concerned or very concerned about not wasting water at camp
  • Sixty-two percent of our campers, 97 percent of our parents, and 98 percent of our staff agreed that camp is a great place to teach environmental stewardship (Conservation Generation 2014 Survey at Blue Star)
 
We determined that we wanted to achieve the following goals:
 
  • Make water conservation relevant to everyday life.
  • Show how to take environmental stewardship practices home from camp and apply them meaningfully.
  • Leverage a rebate program offered by local utility companies to enable implementation of a hardware retrofit program at no cost to camp.
  • Bring our camp parents into the process.
 

Keep It Simple

A robust water, energy, and carbon calculator was used to track and monitor environmental impact throughout the summer. At camp we wanted to keep it simple, so we targeted three behavior changes:
 
  • Turn off the water while brushing teeth.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Avoid using the toilet as a trash can.
 

Making It Real

  • In pursuit of our goals, we took the following actions at our camp:
  • Shower timers — Each cabin was supplied with a shower timer for every shower. These shower timers provided a fun and easy way for campers to become more aware of one way to conserve water.
  • Behavior change stickers — All of the three targeted behavior changes were represented in a visually engaging way on stickers that the counselors posted in each cabin during staff training week. Part of the idea here was to engage the counselors who ultimately would be the ones “on the ground.”
  • Trump cards — Simple card games such as War were played at various times of the day, including during rest hour and on rainy days. The cards were simultaneously teaching best conservation practices.
  • Junior/rookie camper kits — Singing toothbrushes, washable coloring backpacks, and foldable water bottles were given out to our younger campers to engage them in age-appropriate activities.
  • Rain barrels — For our middle school-age campers we taught outdoor water use best practices through rainwater harvesting and re-use applications (including a unit-wide art competition to design the most creatively visual rain barrels).
  • Program guide of activities — Arguably the most sustainable piece of the program is the meticulously culled program guide for staff (and our program office) that outlines key learning takeaways, water conservation best practices, and environmental stewardship core values.
  • Discover Your Best Selves
  • In addition to these ongoing activities, we challenged our campers and staff to discover their best selves individually and as part of our intentional communities through the medium of the visual arts. With Lauren’s art background, she found a summer-long “flow” as her creative skill set meshed seamlessly with her passion for healing the planet.
  • Hanging umbrella installations by our waterfront, public service announcement short films, and murals with campers’ statements of water gratitude, were ways many members of our community embraced opportunities to express themselves while raising awareness about water conservation. Art provides a channel for the right brain to help the left brain make sense and meaning out of learning. It makes it tangible, authentic, and real.
 

Why It Matters

As we were starting to ramp up for the 2014 camp season (and as we all kicked into fifth gear last spring), we brainstormed ways to convey to our staff what matters most to us. That is, what is our WHY? Why have we committed to this work with a personal mission to lead Blue Star into the next generation? Why does it matter? Leading Blue Star matters to us because it allows us to build community, open our hearts, and help others learn to discover their best selves. While following through with these larger outcomes, we simply want our campers to have fun and develop lifelong friendships in a safe space.
 
All of this leads to our larger vision of helping children find out what really matters most—true happiness. We define success differently from how many of our parents do. To us, being deeply happy in life is what constitutes success. Then sharing that happiness with others and doing good in our home communities beyond camp is how we can begin to change the world.
 
We believe that we find happiness when we find meaning in our lives. Doing good work helps provide meaning. Being part of Conservation Generation is one way to create the space for our campers and staff to do good work.
 
For More Conservation Information

Conservation Generation provides “edutainment” and “gamification” programs designed to engage all ages in fun and informative ways to inspire action to:

Reduce waste-Save energy-Save water-Improve water quality-Recycle and reuse water, energy, and waste.

For more information on Conservation Generation programs, visit http://conservationgeneration.com

 
Seth Herschthal, M Ed, is co-owner and director of Blue Star Camps in North Carolina. He can be reached at seth@bluestarcamps.com.
 
Avi Djanogly is the founder of the Conservation Generation program. Avi can be reached at avi@gabih2o.com.
 
Photos courtesy of Blue Star Camps, Hendersonville, North Carolina. 
 

Blue Star Camps’ Building a Conservation Generation program is a recipient of the 2015 Eleanor Eells Excellence in Programming Award. Stay tuned for information on this year’s other award recipients in the July/August 2015 issue of Camping Magazine.