The Lifestyle Project at the University of North Dakota

Dexter Perkins, Dept. of Geology and Geological Engineering, The University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND


I use this project in my Geology 103: Introduction to Environmental Issues class. In this class we consider fundamental Earth Science and related things (ecology, economics, politics) that are intimately connected to important environmental issues. We also look at environmental controversies. The overarching goals are to help students develop their critical thinking skills, to encourage them to be lifelong learners, and to make them better citizens.


The University of North Dakota is a comprehensive university with around 14,000 students. In my Environmental issues class, students vary from freshmen who know nothing to seniors desperately trying to get a few more science credits.

Context for Use

I use this project because I want students to realize that they have control of their lives. They can make decisions and make changes if they want to. There is no need to continue doing things as everyone else does or as you have always done. And, given this empowerment, we all need to think about our impacts on Earth and our obligations to the planet and our society.

I use flexible grading in this course. There are many assignments (four hour exams, weekly papers, book reviews, lifestyles project, quizzes) and students are free to choose how they wish to be graded. So, the Lifestyle Project is not required. It does, however, count quite a bit (more than an exam) and, for this reason, many students elect to do it. (Students also tell me that they do it because it sounds interesting—I hope that is the #1 reason.) The last time I taught Environmental Issues, 45 of the 82 students elected to do this project.

Although I announce the project the first day of class, typically early January, students begin the project in the Spring, after Spring break. It lasts about 5 weeks. It is not necessary to cover all the aspects of heat, garbage, energy use, etc. in class before assigning the project. In fact, I think it may be preferable to have students do the project before we cover those things in class. In that way, they are more genuine in their efforts. Unfortunately, however, because of the timing it does not work out that way.

Project Description

The project description is available on our course Moodle website. The description and materials are very similar to the original Lifestyle Project authored by Karin Kirk. Most students select projects that fall in these general areas:
  • heat (save energy and money and the environment)
  • garbage (decrease your waste and your footprint)
  • electricity and water use (save energy and money and the environment)
  • cars and driving time (save energy and money and the environment)
  • food (eating efficiently, organic foods, vegetarianism or veganism)
  • campus energy project (check and monitor energy use in buildings and then take simple steps to decrease it)

Students may select one or more of the above, and get credit accordingly. Most choose two. And, they are free to suggest other things to do (but very few do this).

Like the students in other enviro classes at other schools, my students take an ecological awareness quiz (Microsoft Word 71kB Dec14 07) at the beginning of the semester. This is referred to throughout the class term. And, when it is time for the lifestyle project we look at it again and make sure that everyone sees the connections between the project and the quiz questions.


At the end of the project, students turn in a typed daily journal and a summarizing self-reflection. I get much enjoyment reading what they write because there is always a great deal of energy and enthusiasm reflected. And, it is most gratifying to find out that most of the students took the project very seriously after they got started, and that many of them say the project will definitely change their lives.