The essential question of the essay contest is “What does sustainability mean to you?”

“In recent years, ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’ have become more than buzzwords, but major goals for our state and national leaders — as well as Shell Martinez,” said Erin Hallissy, a spokesperson for Shell Martinez. “We want to encourage today’s students, our next generation of leaders, to start thinking about why ‘sustainable energy’ is important to them and California’s future — and how we can protect the earth and build a strong economy with energy that’s cleaner, greener and more sustainable,” Hallissy said.”

Essay requirements vary based on grade level with cash and savings bond prizes ranging from $100 to $2,500.

“Here at Shell Martinez, we’ve already reduced our greenhouse gas emissions equal to that generated by about 22,000 homes — and are about to embark on a project that will reduce them even more, as well as save about 1,000 gallons of water a minute,” Hallissy said. “This is what sustainability means to us. And we can’t wait to hear what it means to all of you — our future leaders.”

Entry deadline is October 16, 2015.

Contest details are available at Flyers are available through the Martinez Unified School District main office and all schools. Open to all students in Martinez Unified School District.

How to Enter

Please include your full name, address, email, grade level and school. Please email your entries to:


Please mail entries to:

Carolyn Cecchi, Shell Essay Contest
Martinez Unified School District
921 Susana Street
Martinez, CA 94553

About the Contest

In this competition we challenge you to move beyond the buzz and explore what sustainability means to you. How do you understand sustainability? What is the meaning of sustainability in your own life, in your local community, and in the greater world? We look forward to your thoughts.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION: What does sustainability mean to you?


  • Elementary: Why is a sustainable future important to you and your community? (200-400 word requirement)
  • Middle: How can we, as students, develop and support sustainability practices at home and in our community? (400-600 word requirement)
  • High: How do our differing roles in society (individual, community member, business, etc.) affect sustainability practices? How do you, in your role(s), advocate for these practices? (800-1,000 word requirement)
    You must show evidence from at least two different sources in your essay.
    Please visit for links to articles and resources to help you, or you may find your own.


High School (Cash Award)

  • 1st Prize: $2,500
  • 2nd Prize: $1,000
  • 3rd Prize: $500

Jr. High (Savings Bond)

  • 1st Prize: $500
  • 2nd Prize: $250
  • 3rd Prize: $100

Elementary (Savings Bond)

  • 1st Prize: $500
  • 2nd Prize: $250
  • 3rd Prize: $100

*Winners will also be recognized at a Martinez Unified School District School Board Meeting.


  • All entries should be typed and double-spaced.

  • Format: Typed documents on 8-1⁄2 x 11 white paper (mailed); Word Document or PDF format electronic files (emailed).
  • English-language entries only.


All essays will be initially read and evaluated by a team of dedicated teachers from the Martinez Unified School District. A committee of judges selected from the greater Martinez community will then evaluate finalists. Shell Martinez will not participate in the judging. Immediate family members of the judges will be disqualified from the contest.

Project Examples

1. Effluent Treatment Plant Pond 6 Solar Powered Aerators.

Pond 6 needs to be continuously aerated to perform efficiently and prevent the pond from going anaerobic (oxygen deficient) and causing odors. Rather than use electrically driven aerators, Shell installed solar powered aerators at Pond 6.

2. Wetlands Pond Windmill.

The Shell Refinery maintains a wetlands pond onsite near I-680. This pond serves as habitat to a variety of wildlife such as ducks and geese. To prevent the water from going stagnant or from drying up, we pump water from the nearby Peyton Slough into the pond. Rather than use an electrically driven pump, we use a windmill to pump the water.

3. Phytoremediation (groundwater pumping using trees).

On the east side of the Shell Refinery, we are required to pump and then treat the groundwater. Typically, electrically driven groundwater pumps are used and the effluent treatment plant treats the groundwater. Rather than use this energy intensive process, we planted Poplar trees that have a high water uptake. The trees absorb the groundwater and then we harvest the trees. This naturally occurring process treats the groundwater and thus saves on electricity and chemicals.

4. Recycling of iron solids.

As part of the Refinery’s wastewater treatment process, the Refinery generates approximately 400 trucks a year of iron solids. Rather than dispose of these solids in a landfill, the Refinery sends the solids to a cement kiln. Iron is a key ingredient in cement production. By using our iron solids, the cement kiln does not have to mine iron ore, which is an energy intensive process. Landfill capacity in California is limited and by sending these iron solids to the cement kiln, we do not use up as much landfill capacity.

5. Natural Gas Reduction at Furnaces.

The Refinery uses natural gas in furnaces to heat up oil as part of the refining process. This use of natural gas is similar to a household using natural gas in a water heater to make hot water for showers, cleaning dishes, etc. To reduce the amount of natural gas used in the furnaces, the Refinery has installed energy efficiency equipment to heat the oil before it goes into the furnace. Because the oil is now hotter entering the furnace, the furnace doesn’t need to use as much natural gas to heat up the oil.

6. Metals Reclamation and Recycling of Catalysts.

The Refinery uses catalysts as part of the refining process. These metals are the active ingredients in these catalysts. These metals must be mined and then purified before they can be used in the Refinery. When these catalysts are used up and no longer work effectively, the Refinery sends the catalyst to a metals reclamation facility. This facility extracts these metals and then new catalyst is produced with these reclaimed metals (rather than have to mine ore or purify the metals, both of which are energy intensive processes).

Also, the Refinery sends used catalyst to a facility that processes the catalyst so it can be re-used. This eliminates the need to produce new catalyst, which is also an energy intensive process.

7. Recycling Program.

The Refinery has a substantial recycling program. In 2014, the Refinery recycled 75 tons of cardboard, 2 tons of aluminum cans and plastic and glass bottles, 4,000 cubic yards of wood, over 1,000 pounds of batteries, over 600 tons of concrete, and over 500 tons of scrap metal. The Refinery also recycles electronic equipment like computers, fluorescent light bulbs, and asphalt.

8. Lighting Timers and Motion Sensors.

In order to reduce the amount of electricity used in the Refinery’s office buildings, timers and motion sensors have been installed in order to turn off the lights when the building is not occupied. Light sensors have also been installed on various outside lights in the Refinery in order to turn them off during the daytime.