#CleanEnergyU: The renewable power of a hashtag

#CleanEnergyU: The renewable power of a hashtag

Students are using social media to energize discussions about renewable energy.

GreenBiz is pleased to publish this among the winning entries from the 2015 #CleanEnergyU essay competition.

One of the greatest privileges of being a college student is the freedom to explore new possibilities without fear of failure. Every day, we are encouraged to think creatively both in and out of the classroom  to put our skills to the test on projects that may fail completely, succeed beyond our wildest expectations or fall somewhere in between. The beauty of being a student is the ability to navigate problems and devise innovative solutions for the sake of learning.

Although we students and millennials are notorious for being constantly connected online or glued to our smart phones, technology is a double-edged sword that also empowers us with instantaneous information to harness our curiosity, creativity and connectivity to drive social movements. And while it hasn’t taken long for us to be informed and concerned, we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last to be able to do something about it. The instantaneous nature of platforms such as Twitter help us swiftly discuss and tackle global issues in unison like never before. 

This year, my colleagues at [email protected] and I have had the privilege of exercising our innovative entrepreneurial spirit by learning and working with Sue Hall, CEO of Climate Neutral Business Network, to co-coordinate, design and develop #CleanEnergyU  a series of online and in-person interactive activities to bridge students and global sustainability leaders, driving clean energy innovation for our future. The impacts of #CleanEnergyU have proven that students can use social media as a positive and meaningful tool to bring people together and leverage our collective voice to take the reins on our future.

A year ago on National Campus Sustainability Day 2014, #CleanEnergyU was first launched on the Twittersphere, a simple hashtag meant to unite and celebrate the 11 colleges and universities participating in the Chevrolet Campus Clean Energy Campaign. The stars aligned for something momentous to happen as key stakeholders from dozens of universities, nonprofit organizations and businesses exercised radical collaboration to make a collective impact of 1 million impressions on Twitter in one day.

Thanks to the mentorship of the clean energy leaders and Hall, along with leadership by Chen Cao, a student pursuing a masters degree in public health at Boston University, #CleanEnergyU has gained massive traction.

Never did we expect that 1 million impressions would be the catalyst launching students into a series of opportunities to make student voices heard around the world, with a combination of online dialogues, selfies and live events with global clean energy leaders. Since October 2014, #CleanEnergyU has gained over 23 million impressions, as we have hosted seven tweet-a-thon Q&A style dialogues with leading CEOs, presidents, mayors, authors and executives from esteemed nonprofits including the Climate Group, Sierra Student Coalition, Second Nature, USGBC and National Wildlife Federation; businesses including General Motors, Microsoft, Google, Starbucks and GreenBiz; and government organizations such as George Washington Solar Institute, New York City, the city of Atlanta and the city of Portland. 

Many thanks to all who raise their voice for clean energy action. See our website for updated info on #CleanEnergyU: https://t.co/OxYwYu4BWY

— CleanEnergyU (@CleanEnergyU) November 9, 2015

It’s been a challenge and incredible learning opportunity to discuss clean energy topics such as COP21 in Paris, resilience, the HappoDammo Ratio, intrapreneurship, clean energy investments, radical collaboration and more with the experts leading clean energy policy, developing thought leadership and driving global climate action today. 

In just one year, #CleanEnergyU has expanded our sphere of engagement, as my peers and I have been offered multiple opportunities to unleash our creativity and make a large-scale impact.

We have been invited to internships at the Climate Group and Second Nature; gained insights on passing a New York State Climate Action Plan in discussion with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales; gleaned pointers from Microsoft on how to effectively leverage campus carbon reduction initiatives; and identified the need for a cross-collegiate sustainability chapter to enhance communications between institutions across the U.S., among other opportunities. 

Highlights include connecting with passionate students across the globe; representing the voice behind the Climate Week NYC social media accounts; covering Pope Francis’s address on the Sustainable Development Goals live at the United Nations in New York City; coordinating a workshop in Manhattan for students and clean energy leaders I admire; engaging with leaders bringing together students hosting a presentation on #CleanEnergyU at the AASHE Conference in Minneapolis. Most important: working with and learning from the most driven, humble, experienced and dedicated people I have ever met. 

None of this would be possible without the students who have driven demand for this collaborative partnership and the leaders who have invested time, energy and faith in students. While #CleanEnergyU has been completely experimental and a constant work in process, we hope that the movement will continue to bridge the generational divide, to further empower students to learn from leaders in the field and to inspire global leaders to believe in the potential of students to learn and lead on climate action, today and in the future.