The Lifestyle Project

The Lifestyle Project
Karin Kirk, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College
the Science Education
Resource Center
at Carleton College
Challenge students to take the energy
conservation concepts they’ve learned in class
and apply them to their own life.
Which of these have you done today?
A. Driven your car/truck
B. Taken a hot shower
C. Eaten meat
D. Thrown something in the garbage
E. Computer/gadget use
F. (I know there is no F) All of the above
Which of these have you not done today?
A. Driven your car/truck
B. Taken a hot shower
C. Eaten meat
D. Thrown something in the garbage
E. Computer/gadget use
What is the largest use of energy in your
A. Driving
B. Home heating and cooling
C. Air travel
D. Eating meat
E. Computer/gadget use
Project Goals
I want students to be able to...
• Develop a quantitative sense for how much energy is
used during everyday tasks.
• Understand the linkages between food production,
waste output, water use and energy consumption.
• Take on a personal challenge to reduce their energy
• Learn effective methods to reduce energy use.
• Come away from the project with a lasting impact.
How does the project work?
4 weeks long: 1 week baseline, 3 weeks of action
Introduction and baseline
– Begin with an activity that allows students to understand their
personal environmental footprint. (no sermons)
– Baseline measurements of personal energy use
Techniques include:
Footprint calculators
Mock town hall meeting
Excel spreadsheets
Kill-a-watt meters
Students need to be ready
for a challenge.
Weeks 2-4: The Challenge
Students select 3 categories from 7 possible choices
• Heat
• Garbage
• Electricity
• Water
• Car
• Food
• “Create your own”
• For each category the rules are clearly defined.
• Each week the project becomes more rigorous,
because students will have to meet the
requirements more frequently.
• Students keep track of their activities
in a journal, which is turned in weekly.
Number of “project days”
increases each week
Week 1 - baseline
Week 2 - 2 days per category
Week 3 - 3 days per category
Week 4 - 4 days per category
Each student turns in a journal at the end of each
The categories
Lower the thermostat by 3 degrees each week.
This option is limited to those who have control
over their own thermostats and who have
cooperative housemates!
“My thermostat is usually set at 85
degrees because I am from Florida.”
“I have finally gotten my housemates to
cooperate and stop turning up the heat.
I think they are starting to get the
Spend each project day producing no waste
that would end up in a landfill. Students
quickly find themselves analyzing every move
they make, which is simultaneously frustrating
and enlightening. They begin to realize that
many everyday tasks result in waste being
produced and they need to find alternatives.
“It seems impossible to not produce
garbage for even one day.
At first it didn’t sound like a big
deal, but after trying it for just this
first day I realized just how much
garbage I normally produce!
It’s embarrassing!”
“Our family is about to
begin our third week using
the same thirteen-gallon
garbage bag.”
Students aim to reduce electricity and water
consumption by 50%. You may find yourself
amazed by the lavish energy use of your students
prior to the project.
“I usually take two 20 minute showers a day”
“I leave Christmas
lights on in my room
most of the time
because I don’t like
coming home to a dark
“When I went home for break I
went around the house turning off
the lights and my Dad just about
fell over. He said he’s been yelling
at me all my life to stop leaving
lights on and now I was reminding
him to turn them off!”
Students must not drive their cars on
each of their project days. Instead they
discover other options like riding the bus,
walking, riding their bikes, or simply
planning ahead to reduce the need to
drive daily.
“Transportation is a big thing in
my life…I love my car and I drive
“Between walking to class and
not eating hamburgers, I’ve lost
7 pounds during this project.
My girlfriend is psyched!”
For each project day students adopt
a vegetarian diet. Students who are
already vegetarians or nearly so can
take it a step further and eat locallyproduced, organic, or vegan foods.
“Oh my God I ate a veggie-burger!
If my housemates saw me do this, I
would never hear the end of it.”
If you really had to, by how much could you
reduce your energy use?
A. 5% or less
B. 10%
C. 20%
D. 50%
E. More than 50%
If they really had to, by how much could your
average student reduce their energy use?
A. 5% or less
B. 10%
C. 20%
D. 50%
E. More than 50%
Assessment via Journals
• Students make one entry for or each day they participate in
project activities, keeping track of what they do in each of
their three categories.
• Journals are turned in weekly and are quickly returned to
the students so that they can receive guidance on their
• Weekly “embedded” homework questions can be assigned
and the students put the answers into their journal for that
• Additional interaction can be set up via a course discussion
Sudden self-awareness…
“Today is my first day on the project. I was
unprepared for the immediate affect on my daily
routine, but it had a big impact.
Each time I went to do something, I had to think
of how my actions would affect the environment.”
Old habits breaking…
“Throughout the day, I resisted the urge to
habitually turn on the hot water to wash my
hands, which proved harder to remember than I
I kept turning the hot water on and then off again
once I realized what I had done.”
Newfound awareness…
I am trying to learn more and more everyday how I can
continue the changes I have made, and I want to make
more! ...It is really not that hard, it just takes a little
attention and some dedication.
A compounding impact...
My roommate was definitely not thrilled when I kept
gently reminding her to turn off lights or the TV
when she wasn’t using them, but by the end she
started to make the changes on her own, which
was encouraging.
Does it “stick?”
Has your lifestyle changed in any
permanent ways since the Lifestyle
Yes 81%
No 19%
Skidmore College survey, 1996
“I find it painfully ironic that a class I
took only to fulfill the science
requirement will have a stronger impact
on how I actually live my life, day to day,
than any other class I’ve taken.”
Pedagogic Benefits
• Employs Kolb’s experiential learning
theory (Kolb, 1984)
• Connects theoretical to practical to
personal (and vice versa)
• Incremental and iterative nature allows for repeated
practice of new behaviors
• Contains a quantitative component
• Journal process can be metacognitive
• Presents an alternative type of learning experience
• Can allow for closer connection within the class and
with instructor.
Environmental Benefits
• Typical energy savings per student = 1-2 million BTU per
day (300-600 KWh per day) x 9 days
• Dramatic shift in students’ personal awareness of their
resource use and understanding of the repercussions of
resource use.
• New behaviors are likely to continue after the project is
• National implementation of easily achievable household
energy savings can save 20% of household CO2
emissions, or 7.4% of US national emissions
(Dietz et al, 2009, PNAS).
Attitudinal Benefits
Source: The Harris Poll of 2,303 adults
surveyed online between November 2
and 11, 2009 by Harris Interactive.
Source: Global Warming’s Six Americas 2009.
Maibach, Roser-Renouf, and Leiserowitz, 2009
• Journal assessment is very
qualitative, rubrics help.
• Set up is important - students
needs to be in a frame of mind to take on a challenge
• Requires dedication from instructor to frame the
project and to inspire and motivate for 3 weeks.
• Grading journals is time-consuming, yet wonderful.
• Some students may be less than honest.
“I am so aware now that I cringe when
I see lights on that shouldn’t be, and
when people take more napkins than
they need.
Will I always be like this?”