U.S. company challenges students to go green


How do you inspire green living practices in school-age children? U.S. manufacturing giant Hickory Springs may have found a way to help.

The North Carolina company, which creates furniture components, kicked off its second-annual EarthCare Challenge in February 2011, with an innovative but simple pitch to schools and youth groups. The challenge?  To “create a more sustainable earth-friendly place in their communities” that would help inspire responsible green living practices.

Coordinated completely on social media, the competition encourages school-aged children to think about what it means to be ecologically responsible, and to search for ways to change their community’s thinking about the environment.

Hickory Springs Vice President Dwayne Welch said that the “catalyst” for the competition was the company’s own turn toward environmentally-friendly manufacturing practices. Maker of the popular bio-based foam Preserve, Hickory Spring now depends on recycled or biologically-friendly products for many of the manufacturing components that it markets, such as the coils and webbing that make up the “hidden” sections of mattresses and sofas.


“We wanted to promote EarthCare Inside, and at the same time, social media was beginning to ramp up,” explained Welch, who said using FaceBook gives the public and the company the ability to follow the competition on a moment-to-moment basis.

EarthCare Challenge I, which kicked off in December 2009, and concluded at the end of January 2010, was directed at individuals and families and posed the question, “Are you eco chic or are you eco oblivious?”

Award winner Laura Dillon of San Bernardino, California had garnered 500 FaceBook fans by the end of the competition for her innovative ways of incorporating green living practices into her family’s lifestyle. Her reward was a hand-picked selection of Craftmaster furniture for her home. The benefit to Hickory Springs was added exposure not only of the company’s EarthCare line, but to the idea that anyone can inspire change.

This year the competition targets a younger set of potential environmentalists, and has garnered the attention of groups all across the U.S. As of March 15, the number following the competition on FaceBook and Twitter was up to 1,200.

“That shows the reach is expanding,” said Welch, who added that FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube offer the perfect venue for showcasing this competition. Not only do they allow for instant updates, but they minimize the amount of paper waste that gets contributed to landfills.


A dozen groups entered the competition in February, and immediately got to work publicizing their projects on FaceBook and Twitter.

The groups had approximately three weeks to flesh out their concepts and demonstrate why their ideas could have an impact on their respective communities. On February 21, finalists were announced and given the task of finishing their projects within the month of March.

With the competition now in its last two weeks, EarthCare’s FaceBook page is abuzz with energy. Competing groups post their updates on a daily or semi-weekly basis, giving the public the chance to read about, evaluate and get behind their progress. Readers can vote for their favorite projects and cheer the small milestones that are made along the way. A panel of “green experts” will judge the groups’ final submissions.

The winning group, which will receive $1,000 and a selection of eco-friendly furniture, will be one of five competitors:

  • A pre-school class in Ridgewood NJ, led by teacher Sara Bauer, is finding new ways to recycle. The pre-school students keep journals on the “before and after” experiences of their experiments.
  • The Environmental Club at Fair Lawn High School (Fair Lawn NJ), led by Kathryn Meneghin is working to convert its campus to a plastic-bottle-free environment. The project has galvanized the entire school into looking for ways to cut down on waste.
  • Emek Teichman Hebrew Academy in Sherman Oaks, CA and teacher Ruth Dimant are incorporating recycling practices into their volunteer efforts for a large non-profit food bank.
  • Sara Lashbrook’s class in Jackson, WY is exploring composting methods, including the mysteries of ecology’s best friend, the worm.
  • Chef Tom French and the students in Vashon Island School District (Vashon Island WA) are exploring green themes promoting the use of foods harvested and processed with sustainable methods.

Welch admitted that the competition has required some creative thinking.

“It has been a bit of an experimental process,” said Welch. “(But) social media is here to stay.” And green living practices are a fact of life in the 21st century.

“We want to be good stewards,” said Welch. “We have always recycled our foam.” These days as much as 50 percent of the wire they use for bed coils come from scrap based steel and the webbing they use in couches is made from recycled yarn.


But just as important as the environmentally-friendly practices that the company is trying to institute and inspire, he said, is the effect the competition is having on public outlook toward the environment. Welch said that he knows that green practices are being taught in schools, because his own children come home and report on what they learn. But it is rewarding nonetheless to see younger generations transformed by their enthusiasm to make a difference.

EarthCare Challenge II concludes at the end of March with the announcement of this year’s winner.