It’s difficult to visit the well-treed site of Trinity College School in Port Hope Ontario and not consider the environment. One of Canada’s oldest schools, established in 1865, TCS has all the Hogwarts-esque stone and ivy trimmings of an illustrious institution but it’s also a bit like going to school in the Hundred Acre Woods and when Alison Elliott, Environmental Coordinator and Science Teacher at Trinity College School attended a sustainability conference in the mid-2000’s, a seed was planted in her mind.
Alison realized she wanted to do something to “normalize” environmental habits among TCS students — a private co-educational day and boarding program for grades five through twelve — in the hope that they would go on to enact these habits in their future lives. Through perseverance, planning and a good teacher’s understanding of the student mind, Alison launched and nurtured an annual Green Cup Challenge at the school. That points-based, student-led, eco-action competition held for the purpose of reducing the school’s footprint through youth initiatives and fostering environmental habits that will contribute to a sustainable future has become one of TCS’s treasured institutions.
Recognizing the importance of a buy-in from both the youth and their housemasters, Alison launched the project with a bit of a whisper, starting small to gain measurable success “Please do one thing during April that has a positive effect on the environment” was all she requested of the school’s ten houses and six of them did just that. Most of them held a garbage clean-up but at one house, Scott House, students gave a bit more time and thought to the competition and they became the first winners of the TCS Green Cup, a trophy designed and built from recycled wood and steel by one of the school’s art teachers and the school carpenter.
As the first few years of the competition passed, some of the houses expanded their repertoire of environmental actions — purchasing reusable water bottles, tree-planting or running a ping-pong tournament to raise money for wildlife conservation — and full participation by all houses was achieved. The community realized that these actions not only helped the environment, but bonded students together through fun, shared experiences, and authentic service and leadership opportunities.
Before long the Green Cup started to be seen as another TCS tradition. The role of green rep in each house became a desired position and soon the Cup became a full-year competition involving formalized green rep positions in each house and a points system.
Over the next decade, small improvements were made to the contest every few years based on results and feedback from students, housemasters, and school leadership. Categories were added to the scoring, green rep training and support sessions were established, and TCS began to use the Green Cup towards their annual Ontario EcoSchools certification process. Annually, the student green reps and their houses enact hundreds of individual eco-actions of over twenty different types.
Student enthusiasm for the Green Cup grew and it became part of the school’s overall annual house competition, The Langmuir Cup. Marking a significant cultural shift seen at the school, and elsewhere, last school year 2017-2018, the Green Cup, once worth 5% of the larger trophy was worth 25% of the House cup. This move was made with the full support of the school community, advocated for by students and the school’s ten housemasters alike, all Green Cup graduates who understand the value of what they’ve learned.