At most, this blog is a collection of statistics (that you may or may not be interested in) and suggestions on how to live sustainably. While I wish it was enough for you to read this blog to be sustainable, I know it isn’t. Unfortunately, passive involvement in school is not effective either. Showing up to class for “participation” points and half listening to lecture will not be enough to absorb the information. Dr. John Atkinson, an assistant professor of environmental engineering, knows this and found a way to engage his students enrolled in his class titled “Sustainability”. By setting up weekly challenges to be completed and documented on Twitter using the hashtag, #365Challenge, Dr. Atkinson has been able to get students to think about how their actions impact the environment in and out of the classroom.
Dr. Atkinson not only teaches sustainability, but lives sustainably as well. Through in class discussions, you’ll often hear stories about his efforts to reduce his own carbon footprint. “It is easy for me to preach about using public transportation, eating less meat, lowering the thermostat, wasting less hot water, and generating less solid waste”, he says. “I tried this, only to learn that lecturing is not an effective teaching strategy for such an essential topic. As passionate as they may be, my pleas go in one ear and out the other, even to students actively trying to be better global citizens. Students should be provided with suggestions that allow them to live the sustainable lifestyle that they so desire. As the professor of a course broadly titled ‘Sustainability’, this teaching opportunity is mine.”
Challenges range in difficulty from #NoMeatWeek, where students would try to replace one meal with a vegetarian option after learning the impact of meat production on the environment in class, to #SpringCleaning, where students diverted gently used items from landfills by donating them to a local Buffalo organization called Friends of Night People, to #ShortShowers, where the limitation is you have to keep your showers under 5 minutes (sounds impossible, but isn’t). As a regular NFTA rider and proponent for public transportation, Dr. Atkinson’s favorite challenge is #emissionLess week because as students in his class know, cars are one of the worst things for the environment. Bonus points are awarded to those who complete the challenge, however, it is not mandatory. Despite this, participation has increased year after year. Dr. Atkinson welcomes participation from everyone, on campus and off, and uses Twitter as a platform because it “forces students to think reflectively about the topic at hand because it requires efficient and impactful communiques.” He also appreciates that Twitter is easily accessible and these messages can be seen by a lot of people all over the world. The only downside for non-students who choose to participate? No bonus points.
Student Sustainability Coordinator, Campus Dining and Shops