School of change
Chico State students embrace conservation assignment
“I was not the best-smelling person in Chico that night, but I did not mind,” Matt Upton wrote in a journal.
Upton, an environmental sustainability major at Chico State, penned that entry in the midst of a class exercise, more of a challenge, really, to live more sustainably. His environmental-science professor, Cristina Archer, had assigned a three-week project requiring students to conserve resources by cutting out certain activities.
During a recent interview, Archer explained “The Lifestyle Project” and how it involved six categories that students had to choose from: producing no trash, refraining from driving anything that uses gasoline, cutting water consumption by half, cutting electricity consumption by half, eating no meat, and reducing heat consumption.
Students were asked to commit to three of the categories and do them on certain days over three weeks and to document their experiences in a journal, which Archer collected at the end of each week.
“I was very curious to see how seriously they were going to take it,” Archer said.
Upton’s journal entry about his, uh, scent happened on a day when he had showered in the morning and had classes all day. In the afternoon, he rode his bike with his friends and headed out to dinner. He had chosen to reduce his electricity consumption, stay out of a car and, most problematic in this particular scenario, reduce his water use.
“When I got home, I went straight for the shower and had to catch myself,” Upton wrote.
Further complicating the situation was Upton’s plan to hang out with a friend that evening. They were supposed to watch a movie together at his place, but Upton remembered that he had already watched basketball earlier in the day, so he couldn’t use any additional electricity.
“I ended up explaining to her that I couldn’t do it there, and we had to do it at her place if we were still going to watch a movie—and that I also needed a ride,” an amused Upton said during a recent interview. “It was fun though.”
Upton said his friend thought it was hilarious. She was curious and asked what class it was for and wondered why he was doing it.
“She was kind of skeptical at first, but it was pretty funny,” Upton said.
For some students, including Upton, the project proved a bit of a challenge. Upton said he was used to showering twice most days, enjoying the basketball season on television, and driving to Paradise at least twice a week. Others, such as Travis Moore, an environmental-science major, adjusted to the changes fairly easily.
Moore decided to reduce his water consumption, remove meat from his diet and not to drive. Since his major option is hydrology, he was already used to conserving water. Even still, he said the task has given him new insights and ideas to save even more water.
When showering, for example, he stopped the water when shampooing and soaping up, running it only when rinsing off. He used the same technique when brushing his teeth. He also ratcheted the pressure down.
“I just don’t leave the water running if I’m not using it,” he said.
Moore said cutting meat out of his diet wasn’t too hard. In fact, he found himself saving money by buying vegetarian fare, including a burrito for $2.50. Overall, the project inspired him to talk about the ideas of conservation.
“I want to share it with other people and try to convince them to do the same thing, to practice the same thing,” he said.
Paul Lehmann, an outdoor-education major, also thought the project was beneficial. He chose to cut down on the consumption of water and electricity, and driving.
“I think that it’s not that hard to save energy when you think about it,” Lehmann said. “You don’t need to turn your heater on much here, because it doesn’t get below freezing very much. You can always put a jacket on.”
Lehmann said the most difficult part of cutting down on electricity had more to do with his roommates. At first, he would go around shutting their lights off for them on his way to the kitchen.
“Now I’ve been telling them to shut off their lights instead of just doing it for them,” Lehmann said.
Archer pointed out that the students who participated tended to share their experiences with family and friends, spreading the conservation techniques.
The professor decided to implement the project into her class after learning about it during a workshop. According to the Lifestyle Project Web site, the exercise was written by Karin B. Kirk of Montana and John J. Thomas of New York and was published in the Journal of Geoscience Education.
Although it was her first time doing this project, Archer predicted it was going to be very effective since she had heard of its successes. She plans to continue using it in future classes.
“It’s very easy things,” Archer said of the conservation tasks. “It’s not going to cost [the students] money. It’s not going to upset them. If anything, they’re saving money, and they’re eating better.”
Archer said the project inspired some of the students to start recycling programs at their workplace. Some also are speaking with local girl scouts to inform them about conserving energy.
“The impact was very positive,” she said. “It was an eye-opening experience for most of them.”