A sustainability nonprofit that has been accredited by the United Nations, recognized by U.S. presidents and involved in a number of international environmental conferences began as a small student organization at the University of Central Florida just a few years ago.

IDEAS, a sustainability movement with more than 15 chapters around the world, was founded by two UCF students in 2008.

Chris Castro and Henry “Hank” Harding, who have since graduated from UCF, were classmates in Professor Emeritus Penelope Canan’s environmental sociology course who were both fascinated by the connection between the environmental and social issues they were learning in the class.

Castro said the duo was motivated by “the unique opportunity to assist with engaging students in advancing the university’s sustainability and climate action initiatives.”

Castro and Harding believed that in order for UCF to achieve its environmental goals, there would need to be an engaged student body dedicated to renewable energy. They felt that students needed to be “action-oriented,” and thus, IDEAS for UCF was born.

“It was a truly dedicated group of UCF students who came together to advance sustainability and our climate-action goals,” Castro said. “It’s completely been a team effort to get to where we are today.”

Castro and Harding developed a toolkit that gave new chapters across the country a step-by-step guide how to positively influence their university’s environmental impact.

IDEAS continues to grow and gain international recognition, even receiving a shout-out from former President Clinton last spring at a UCF commencement ceremony.

After acknowledging Castro and Harding by name, and listing a number of IDEAS achievements, Clinton reminded students that, “It (IDEAS) all started here, with two people just like you.”

IDEAS’ missions are to educate young people about global environmental issues while engaging and empowering them to create localized solutions and to expose college students to critical pedagogy and real-world teaching experiences.

IDEAS for UCF achievements include obtaining a $645,000 grant to help fund the installation of solar panels outside of Garage B across from the Recreation and Wellness Center. The energy produced by the panels provides more than half of the total power used in the parking facility, saving UCF more than $15,000 a year by helping power the garage’s lights.

The group also is responsible for a solar umbrella behind the Student Union that allows students to use renewable energy to charge their laptops. In addition, the organization helps plan Greenwaves, the sustainable music festival held on campus each spring.

In 2011, the White House showcased IDEAS as part of its “Champions of Change” series that highlights Americans making positive changes to better their communities.

Current IDEAS for UCF member Will Chorvat was drawn to the group because of “the organic structure, and how everyone’s feedback was not just accepted, but appreciated…I loved that instead of just talking about certain problems, we were developing plans of action and solutions.”

Castro says everybody- whether a part of IDEAS or not- can make a difference.

“I think it’s important to realize that each one of us has the power to make a difference,” he said. “Whether it’s how we use our energy and water resources, how we discard our waste appropriately, what food we decide to eat, and how we treat the surrounding ecology — it all has an incredible impact on our people and planet. We have the ability to turn our ideas into solutions that will solve the environmental crisis.”