Sustainability Daily Practice

Greg Gordon, Gonzaga University
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Part I: This is a semester-long (or quarter) ongoing assignment where students commit to making a meaningful change in some aspect of their personal behavior or habit that makes a contribution to environmental sustainability. For example, a student might choose to give up driving for the semester, become vegetarian, eat organic, eliminate packaging, cut water or electricity use, take a daily (or weekly) eco-sabbatical, etc. The Daily Practice should be achievable and challenging, and something that can be tracked or quantified. It should also be something that the student does on a daily or weekly basis with conscious reflection or mindfulness—a practice in the true sense of the word. At the end of the semester, students write a reflection about the activity and calculate or discuss the overall impact.
Part: II Students revisit their Daily Practice assignment reflection at the end of their college career to assess if their chosen Daily Practice was maintained or added to, or more importantly, if it translated into larger, collective action, such as political or community engagement.

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Learning Goals

Course Learning Outcome: By the end of this course students will have taken a personal action on behalf of the environment and reflected upon those actions.
This assignment is used to assess our Environmental Studies departmental outcome of "A desire to take personal action in pursuit of a sustainable future for the planet." This departmental outcome assessment takes place in the senior capstone course, where students reflect on their Daily Practice from Environmental Studies 101. They complete the following assignment:
Reflect back on your Daily Practice from 101. What was it? Did you maintain it, modify it, add to it, or drop it? Why or why not? Are they any other personal actions you have taken on behalf of the environment as a direct result of your Environmental Studies course work, beyond the expected course requirements? In addition to lifestyle changes, other personal actions might include: civic engagement, leadership roles, community action or involvement, volunteer or internship commitments. Please be specific and elaborate on actions you've taken and why.

Context for Use

This activity seems most appropriate for introductory courses. Since it's an individual assignment, it can work for any class size or institution. In order to integrate the major assessment portion, students would likely need a required introductory course and a senior capstone. Unless the same instructor teaches both courses, this would require that the instructors of each course collaborate so that the first instructor always uses this assignment and saves the student responses so that the second instructor can return these 1-4 years later. The daily practice can also work for high school students, but they will need guidance in determining their ecological footprint and in the No Impact Project (described in next section).

Description and Teaching Materials

Part I Week One: Have students calculate their carbon and land use footprints using one of these websites:

Students post their results on white board using the chart below:

Tons of CO2




US average

World Average

We follow up with classroom discussion that explores the differences in individual results. This includes a discussion about why one zip code would differ from another and the less apparent impacts such as food, consumer goods, and trash. The difference between the US average and world average also prompts discussion.

Week Two: Students complete the no-impact experiment, which asks students to take a "one week carbon cleanse" by focusing on a particular source of CO2 emissions each day of the week and reducing that source, such as transportation, food, energy, trash, etc. Note: It's easier to register for this as individuals rather than as an institution.

Week Three: By now, students should have a basic understanding of their ecological footprint and some ideas of how to lessen it for a more sustainable lifestyle. Students submit a brief (1-2 paragraphs) proposal for their Daily Practice with a plan for tracking/reflecting/quantifying their practice. Once the instructor has approved their proposal, the students are ready to begin.

Weeks Four-Fourteen: Students conduct their daily (or weekly) practice.

Week Fifteen: Students read Derick Jensen's "Forget Shorter Showers" and discuss his ideas and how it relates to their Daily Practice. The students then write a 700-1000 word refection on their daily practice, including an overview of their quantitative or qualitative results. The reflection is fairly open ended, but the students should address what they did, any challenges they faced, how it applies to the overall course concepts, and if their thoughts on how this may (or may not) contribute to a developing ecological consciousness.

Part II: At the conclusion of their college career, students receive their reflection essay from Part I and are asked to revisit it to see if they continued their practice or added to it. More importantly, we ask if how their environmental studies coursework has translated into taking personal and collective action in their daily life. Daily Practice Assessment Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB Jul7 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

In the course of the semester, many students forget about their daily practice, so it's helpful to remind them. Mid-term check-in's are imperative to keep students on track. Student responses to this assignment are quite varied. Generally, the simpler and more quantifiable practices tend to be the most achievable. For example, students who commit to shorter showers by timing their showers usually succeed in making a habitual change in their daily life. On the other hand, these simpler practices seem to be less meaningful. More ambitious or qualitative practices, such as an eco-sabbatical, often fall aside as students' lives get busy later in the term. Of course, the commitment by the individual student is important as well. For example, one student decided to forgo all plastic use for the semester not only succeeded but made this a campus wide campaign. Nearly all students are surprised by the cumulative impact of their actions over the course of the semester.


For the initial semester, the grading is straightforward: For full credit, the students need to provide a reflection and provide a quantitative or qualitative overview of their practice. The follow-up reflection in the capstone also straightforward, and all the students recalled their daily practice and could reflect upon it. The departmental assessment of how this assignment indicates the program goal of "A desire to take personal action in pursuit of a sustainable future for the planet" is a bit more complex. The attached rubric is used to evaluate and assess the department, not to grade the students. In this assessment, students scored very high on the commitment level indicating they maintained the daily practice they began in ENVS 101 for several years and made significant lifestyle changes. But only a few could transfer their practice into civic engagement and leadership positions, but those who did, remarked on how meaningful their daily practice was in chartering their undergraduate path. For example, one student directly tied her eco-sabbatical into her senior project. However, many expressed a sense of frustration that their daily actions didn't translate into structural or political changes.

References and Resources