The Lifestyle Project at Vancouver Island University, British Columbia

Steven Earle, Geology Department, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC, Canada
Initial Publication Date: November 7, 2007 | Reviewed: May 10, 2019


The project is used in two courses, both with the theme of understanding the environmental implications of our use of energy, exploring personal energy use, and learning about the types of energy available to Canadians. One is a face-to-face course for Education majors, the other is an on-line course available to all upper-level (3rd and 4th year) students.

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Learning Goals

The goal is to give students the opportunity to understand, through their own experiences:
  • that we all have an impact on the environment and on climate change,
  • that we can make choices in how we use energy and other resources and,
  • that we can make changes to our lifestyles that will significantly reduce our contribution to climate change and environmental degradation.

Context for Use

Vancouver Island University is a primarily undergraduate comprehensive university with over 10,000 full-time students. (

The Lifestyle Project is part of SCIE-403, which is a required course for 4th year education majors. It is taught jointly by myself and Debbie Hearn from the physics department. Over the past few years the number of students has varied between 20 and 50. The main objectives of the course are to understand the environmental implications of our use of energy, discover personal energy-use options and learn about the types of energy available to Canadians.

Participation in the Lifestyle Project is optional, the alternative being a term paper. Most students (approx. 90%) do participate. Students may start the project at any time during the term. They spend three weeks on the project and submit an electronic journal at the end of each week. Feedback is provided within 2 or 3 days. As of 2007, students who normally drive to campus are required to choose the transportation option, and to reduce their driving by at least 50% by the end of the third week. More information is available on the website:

The Lifestyle Project is also used in SCIE-303, which is a science elective for non-science students. The course is offered on-line and the enrollment is approximately 24. SCIE-303 is generally similar to SCIE-403 and the Lifestyle Project is used in the same way.

Description and Teaching Materials

In the interest of saving resources there is no classroom handout—the project is described on the course website.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The environmental implications of energy use are discussed before the project is started, and all students complete an environmental footprint survey (Microsoft Word 33kB Nov7 07). There are many situations within lectures and student-run tutorials where information is provided about how we can limit our environmental impact. For example, the first tutorial in the face-to-face course includes a discussion about the parking situation on campus, and students are asked to make a detailed accounting of how much they drive in a year.

Feedback to students is a critical part of this project. Students get feedback when they submit their proposal for their project (at the start of the project) and at the end of each week. This allows them to adjust their lifestyle changes so that they can meet the project expectations and their personal objectives.

I make an effort to ask students how the people around them (roommates, family, neighbours) are being affected by the project. Sometimes I even ask them to ask those people to give me some feedback about the project.

All correspondence with students on this project is either verbal or by e-mail.


The project represents 15% of the course mark. Each week's journal is graded on a 1-through-10 scale. The marks are based on the instructor's perception of the level of effort put into meeting goals and the degree of sincerity expressed in the journal. A significant part of the mark is based on how well students express how they feel about the project and how it has affected them and those around them. The marks are generally quite high, rarely less than 24/30, commonly higher than 27/30.

References and Resources

Cover slide from "The Lifestyle Project" presentation at the 2007 GSA annual meeting

Earle, S, Kirk, K and Wright, P, 2007, The Lifestyle Project, Geol. Soc. America, Annual Meeting, Denver, CO, October 2007. Download PowerPoint file (PowerPoint 507kB Nov7 07)

Earle, S, 2005, The Lifestyle Project, Presentation to the Int. Soc. for the Study of Teaching and Learning, Vancouver, BC, October 2005.

Earle, S., 2005, The Lifestyle Project, presentation to the Association of Canadian Community Colleges Annual Conference, Moncton, NB, June 2005.