Green Campus Project Wants Your Vote
Have you ever had a dream about a great project that would benefit humanity? Maybe it was little more than an idea. Or maybe you actually got to the stage where you had it all planned out and ready to go, but the funding just wasn’t there.
That’s where Marty Leenhouts finds himself today. He has an idea about a Green Campus Project that will benefit college and university students, reduce emissions and traffic congestion, and make the world a little greener. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the funds to make his vision a reality.
But PepsiCo does. And Pepsi has invited people with vision to submit their own project ideas to the Pepsi Refresh Project, to compete for some pretty hefty cash prizes each month. Here’s the story of one of those projects, in the Planet category. As visionary Marty Leenhouts says, “The fulfillment of the Green Campus project will only happen with the winning of the contest.” If you support Leenhouts’ vision, you can vote for the Green Campus Project each day this month.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked Leenhouts to tell us about his vision and what he hopes to accomplish with the Green Campus Project. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
LEENHOUTS: I’m an educator by heart and by trade for many years, and so my interest has been with students for a long time. My involvement with electric transportation began with an interest in doing something good for the environment. I started it when gas was over $3 a gallon — about a year and a half ago.
People needed a different way to get around that was economical, clean, quiet, easy to ride. Nothing deluxe. Just to get from point A to point B. That got me involved in electric transportation.
The hard part that I have found with getting the word out about electric transportation has been how to effectively show university students that this is a great mode of transportation for them while they’re in college. They go from dorm to class, from class to work, from work to here — they just go a lot of short routes every day. Why start up their car or gas-powered scooter when they can hop on an electric bike and just go from here to there? It makes sense to me, but so far I haven’t been able to get the word out to university students, so that was the foundation of the Green Campus Project.
BPGL: If you do get the funds for the Green Campus Project, what will it look like on those campuses?
LEENHOUTS: What I envision on these campuses with the Green Campus Project is that the students or student group that is in charge of the project on their campus will do a monthly demonstration or promotion — an informational gathering of some type. They will eventually meet the goal, which is to expose 60,000 university students to electrical transportation.
How they exactly carry that out on their own university campus is something that I will work with them on. Then I’ll hold them accountable. At the end of each month they’ll submit a report to me as to what took place, how successful it was, and what they’ll plan for next month, changes they’ll make, and so on.
That’s the main goal. The student team, or student directors, will have available to them a number of electric bikes and scooters that they will use not only for their personal use, but for demonstration purposes as well. And if they want to rent them out or loan them out to others to try, that’s part of their plan to carry out the project.
BPGL: How many bikes and scooters do you anticipate that the $30,000 at University of Minnesota or the $20,000 at Minnesota University at Mankato could purchase?
LEENHOUTS: Fifteen to twenty per university. That would be about $20,000 worth of units per university. So we’re looking at probably 40 units. For example, I’m in good communication with another Midwest university. They are very much aware and interested in our program, because they have a green initiative on campus. The director of their initiative mentioned to me that they would plan that the students involved would have units to use on their own, but they would probably work with their outdoor department. They would have other units available on a rental basis so that as many students as possible could try them, if they wanted to.
BPGL: Is the goal to get the universities to purchase a fleet of these for student use, or is it to just encourage students to buy the scooters for themselves? How do you see this playing out over the long run?
LEENHOUTS: It could go either direction, however the university felt it would be most successful. The team that is involved with it could make it an entrepreneurship on their own — a regular venture — if they were interested in bringing units in for other students to purchase. Or they could work directly with their university on a rental basis so that students could replace their gas-powered units with these electric units to ease parking demands, reduce noise, and help congestion.
BPGL: Will they be allowed to park these in bike racks?
LEENHOUTS: Yes. Most of the units are electric-assisted bicycles that don’t need a special license plate or special insurance. The campus, of course, has to work this out with their own transportation department. At Iowa State University, for example, they’ve already worked through all of that, so these units can be parked in bicycle racks.
BPGL: Where can they charge the motorized bikes?
LEENHOUTS: They plug into any normal wall outlet. Most of the units have an easily removable battery pack, so they could take the battery pack out, carry it into their apartment or dorm room, and charge it up. It’s real handy for the students in that way.
BPGL: Tell us about the Pepsi Refresh Project contest.
LEENHOUTS: It’s a popular-vote, grant contest. My main effort in April is to get the word out about voting for this because every person can vote once a day per email address. The voting goes until the end of the month. And at that time, the top ten in each category will be awarded the grant money. Pepsi is giving away $1.3 million every month in different categories. The Planet is one of their categories, and that’s the one the Green Campus Project fits into. They have categories of $5,000, $25,000, $50,000, $250,000. They’re giving away the top 10 in the first three categories, and the top 2 in the $250,000 category. That totals up to $1.3 million.
BPGL: How long does this go on?
LEENHOUTS: They’re doing it once a month for this calendar year, I believe.
BPGL: Does your project get to stay in all year? Or is this only for one month and then you drop out?
LEENHOUTS: They carry over 400 of those that don’t win from the previous month to the next month. I hope that won’t be necessary. When you push real hard for one month, it’s pretty hard to push again with your same database the second month. That would be really tough.
BPGL: I see today your project is 112th in the Planet category. Out of how many?
LEENHOUTS: They accept 1,000 every month, total, in all the categories, plus the 400 carryovers. In the Planet category there are 3- or 400. It’s moving. That’s encouraging. I started at 300 something, then with all the support I’m getting, it’s pretty encouraging. I’m still working hard at it.
BPGL: Is anyone else collaborating with you?
LEENHOUTS: No. I’m pretty much doing this on my own, with the support of my family and friends.
BPGL: I have to ask this, Marty. What do you get out of this if it wins?
Not a whole lot. Mostly I get the promotion of electric bikes that I do carry. And I’m not going to mark those up very much at all to put them on these campuses. My main goal is promotional.
But that’s a good question: What do I get out of it? I’ve tried my hardest to get the word out on college campuses, and it’s been difficult. Trying to get permission to do this or trying to advertise, it’s been hard to be able to fund that promotion. So this Green Campus Project will allow that promotion to be able to happen. Hopefully, students will see the value of this and grab hold of it.
BPGL: Do you manufacture these bikes?
LEENHOUTS: I work with two companies that assemble the bikes here in the Midwest. That’s why I’m concentrating sort of on the Midwest, but it doesn’t have to stop there with this Green Campus Project.
BPGL: I’m looking at your website, e-ScooterCity.com. There are a lot of electric bikes and scooters. There don’t seem to be big bins for students to carry groceries or things like that, which I think would be a major motivator.
LEENHOUTS: The EZ Ride and some of the other e-scooters have a basket on the front with a trunk on the back.
BPGL: There’s one that says, “electric mobility, 3-wheeled mobility.” The seat on that one reminds me of a wheelchair.
LEENHOUTS: It’s a three-wheeled mobility scooter.
BPGL: I’m not familiar with the term “mobility scooter.”
LEENHOUTS: There are a number of electric mobility scooters. You’ve probably seen them in malls and stores. They have very small wheels on them, often four-wheeled units. People that can’t get around will ride in these electric carts. They only go three or four miles per hour, whereas this unit has larger wheels.
Ours has a speed controller, which is where the “mobility” factor comes into play. Someone could turn that down to a very low crawling speed, which could be used in a store, for that matter, for those people who have difficulty walking that far. But it also will go quite quickly for those that want to increase their speed a little bit. It’s the fastest mobility scooter around. It’s got a lot of variety for those that aren’t comfortable on two wheels.
BPGL: Tell us about the mountain bike.
LEENHOUTS: Our electric mountain bikes are very popular. They get a lot of attention. They have a real nice motor on them. You can pedal them just like a bike or you can use the motor for assist. They’re very stylish.
The mountain bike version has an all-aluminum frame. The one shown on our website is without the cross bar, so that’s the women’s model. It has aluminum wheels, disc brakes, a lithium battery, and is very light-weight.
BPGL: Do these bikes also charge as you pedal them?
LEENHOUTS: They do regenerate slightly when pedaling and braking.
BPGL: Why are you interested in getting these electric bikes on college campuses?
LEENHOUTS: I think it’s the ideal product for student transportation. Starting up your car to drive two miles, then starting it up again to drive back, it’s just so inefficient.
BPGL: And why would this be better than, say, pedaling a bike?
LEENHOUTS: It’s not necessarily better than pedaling a bike. Normal bicycles are the greenest form of transportation. Electric bikes are for people that have a longer distance to travel, and they might not want to work up a sweat by pedaling a bike. E-bikes are also faster.
BPGL: Do you have a storefront, Marty?
LEENHOUTS: No, just an online store.
BPGL: So people actually buy scooters on line?
LEENHOUTS: Yes. But that’s not my main emphasis. My main emphasis is to sell these direct, so people can test-drive them, and I can answer all their questions. Providing local service and support is important to me, too.
BPGL: How can our readers help support your project in the Pepsi Refresh Contest?
LEENHOUTS: They can vote for the Green Campus Project once each day this month. And I’ll be happy to send a daily email to remind them to vote for the Green Campus Project. They can sign up through the e-Scooter website. All emails will stop when voting ends on April 30th, and the list with names and emails will be deleted.
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