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- The Lifestyle Project
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Course for which contribution is used: EES 112 Environmental Science and FYS 1126 Sustainability of Natural Resources
As part of my EES 112 and FYS 1126 courses I discuss the importance of lifestyle choices with regards to environmental impact. I have found the best way to get students to think about the environmental impacts of their own lifestyles (including food choices) is for them to monitor their own lifestyles and then make small incremental lifestyle changes to reduce their environmental impact.
Enter the Lifestyle Project. The Lifestyle Project is a way for students to learn about environmental alternatives by modifying their own lifestyle. It is a three-week exercise in which they reduce their impact on the environment by changing the way in which they live from day to day. The project has fairly rigid parameters, allowing them to achieve a gradual, but definitive change in their everyday habits.
Each student chooses three different ways in which they are interested in changing their habits. The possible categories are: (1) use of electricity and water, (2) automobile usage, (3) food consumption, (4) waste production, and (5) environmental education or activism. For each category the rules are clearly defined, like eliminating the use of the car or not eating meat. Each week the project becomes more rigorous, because they have to meet the requirements more frequently.
Each student keeps a digital journal on Moodle with entries for each day that they complete the project requirements. The rules / details can be found on the assignment which I have included.
I submitted this exercise to the portal because food choices are one of the categories in which students can make changes. Specifically, in class we discuss the large resource needs / environmental impacts associated with meat production and consumption. The production of meat requires a large amount of water, energy, and land, and also produces considerable waste. By reducing the amount of meat that we eat, we can reduce our personal environmental impact. So, during the three weeks students agree not to eat meat for designated days of the project.
Additional Comments: Before students embark on the Lifestyle Project, I show them the film "No Impact Man" which follows Colin Beavan, a typical New Yorker, as he and his family try to make substantial changes to their everyday habits to lead a low impact lifestyle. The film is quite entertaining and helps motivate and inspire students about the Lifestyle Project.
I have done this exercise since 2006 and it remains one of the favorites among students in the class. We do the Lifestyle Project relatively early in the term and then repeatedly reflect on the experience as the term progresses. In particular we discuss what changes if any have stayed with the students after the project is over.
Lifestyle Project Summary [PDF]