Each year the College of Liberal Arts Hosts No Impact Week to educate the community about human impacts on the natural world and how we can reduce this impact. This includes various activities throughout the week focused on the themes of trash, food, consumption, transportation, water, energy, giving back, and Eco-Sabbath.
This year, the Office of Sustainability completed and encouraged lifestyle challenges, as an interactive way for groups and individuals to explore their personal impact. The staff and interns at the Office of Sustainability participated in different challenges for the entire week prior to No Impact Week and shared the process through social media (@AUsustain) using the hashtags #noimpactweekAU and #NIWactions.
We hope you will choose to take on a lifestyle challenge and help us spread awareness about sustainability efforts!
Topic: Energy and Transportation
Most of the energy consumed in the United States is produced from burning fossil fuels, which is one of the key drivers of human-induced climate change. Being aware of all of the ways we use energy, can help us curb our consumption leading to lower energy bills, fewer stops at the gas pump, and smaller carbon footprints.
- One Light: Artificial lighting can make our lives more productive, but the ease of flipping a switch can quickly lead to our over-dependence or misuse of lights. For this challenge, see if you can only use one light per person at the same time. For example, if you live with four people, but only two people are home, only two lights can be on within your home. Open your curtains/blinds to use natural lighting during the day and don’t forget to flip the switch!
- Ditch Your Own Ride: Personal vehicles provide convenience, but they also come with many obvious and hidden costs. For this challenge, avoid the use of your own personal vehicle for getting to/from class/work. Instead of driving, take transit, carpool, or ride your bike! For a tougher challenge, try avoiding riding alone in your vehicle all week. (Note: Take appropriate precautions. When biking at night the law requires the use of front & rear lights. It’s also advised to wear reflective materials and a helmet.)
- Screen Free: Screens have proliferated within our daily lives to the point of becoming potential health hazards, in addition to the energy they consume. If you take on this challenge, cut out screens unless part of a requirement for work or other responsibilities. This means no checking social media, watching TV/Netflix, texting, FaceTiming, or playing video games. Communicate with your family and friends via phone calls, and get your news from a physical newspaper, available at the library.
The way we produce and consume food has changed a lot over the past half-century. A large portion of our food system has been industrialized leading to a heavy dependence on fossil fuels for production, manufacture, and distribution. In fact, most food travels about 1,500 miles before ending up on our plates, losing a considerable amount of nutrition along the way. Shifting our diets to include more whole foods and a larger amount of veggies/fruits can not only improve our health, but also that of the planet.
- Go Vegetarian: A balanced vegetarian diet is healthier and more sustainable than meat-based diets, and can also help lower your carbon footprint while conserving water and land. For this challenge, go vegetarian for the week. While a strict vegetarian diet consists of not eating any meat, poultry, or fish, there are variations that include eating eggs, dairy, and/or fish. There are many sources for information and meal ideas for eating vegetarian.
- Go Vegan: Veganism provides all the same benefits of vegetarianism, but takes takes it up a notch by avoiding all animal by-products, like eggs, dairy, and honey, which further reduces negative environmental impacts. So if you’re looking for a big dietary challenge, consider go vegan for the week. A healthy and varied vegan diet includes fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Be sure to research more on veganism and how to meet nutritional recommendations before getting started.
- Sugar Free: Sugar finds sneaky ways to get into our diets, and it can have negative impacts on our health, such as weight gain, sugar addictions, diabetes, and heart disease. In theory this challenge is pretty simple: don’t eat anything with ADDED sugar (foods with natural sugars such as fruits, carrots, & beans are fine). However, this is going to require you to do some research, like reading the ingredients list on the back of packaged foods. Here’s just a few items that you probably didn’t know usually have added sugar:
- Marinades, sauces, and dressings
- Pasta sauce and ketchup
- Flavored yogurt
- Canned vegetables
- Instant oatmeal
Before beginning this challenge, take some time to research other names for sugar to look for in the ingredient list of your food, which include:
- Agave nectar;
- Barley malt;
- Beet sugar;
- Rice syrup;
- Cane sugar, cane juice, and cane juice crystals;
- Corn sweetener, corn syrup, and corn syrup solids; and
- Fructose, among others.
Topic: Consumption & Waste
A significant portion of the modern US economy is based upon the Take-Make-Waste model of consumption. This translates into advertising and social cues that encourage us to buy more and more stuff, whether we need it or not. The result has been the rapid deterioration of our environment and growing mounds of toxic and non-toxic wastes. Re-thinking not only how much we buy and use, but also the quality and characteristics of what we buy, can help transform our economy into one that works with, rather than against, natural systems.
- Don’t Buy Anything: A great way to avoid mindless consumption is to simply not participate. By actively refraining from buying items for a week, you may realize just how much you’re accustomed to purchasing in our current consumer culture. While fairly straightforward, this challenge ask you to go on a consumption fast, and as such, might take some planning. During your week participating, you won’t make a single purchase, other than one grocery trip at the beginning of the week.
- No Single-Use Plastic: Although many types of plastic can be recycled, taking it a step farther to reduce use makes a greater impact by reducing the demand for plastic in the market, ultimately reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Throughout the week you’ll realize how many everyday items you use are made from plastics, and can start to explore sustainable alternatives to fit your lifestyle while cutting out use of single-use plastics. In this challenge, you will avoid using any single-use plastic items, which includes disposable water bottles, straws, shopping bags, many types of food packaging, and much more. This may take some strategizing and shifts in shopping habits (eg – look for glass or reusable cartons.) You could even go one step farther and use no plastic at all for the week!
- Carry Your Trash Around: In 2014, Americans produced roughly 4.5 pounds of waste per day. In order to explore how much waste you’re currently producing as an individual, try carrying all of your trash with you throughout the week. This includes items that you would throw into the landfill, recyclables, compostable food waste- everything! You can collect all types of waste in one bag, or have smaller bags to separate waste by category. The challenge is to keep your waste bag(s) with you at all times, no matter where you go. For examples and more information, check out Trash on Your Back.
- Track and Reduce Water Usage: Consumption and waste don’t just refer to solid materials; it can also relate to water and energy. In fact, on average Americans consume over 413,000 gallons of water each year, which is the highest consumption per capita rate in the world. For this challenge, you’ll track and try to reduce your water usage. On day 1, you will log the total amount of time you spend running water continuously. This includes tracking the amount of minutes water is running while you: shower/groom, brush your teeth, wash your face, and/or wash your dishes. For the remaining days, you’ll continue recording these numbers, while trying to reduce the minutes you’re continuously running water. A great way to achieve this is to take fewer and shorter showers! While you’re in the practice of being aware of your water usage, we also recommend the following water saving actions:
- Turn the water off while brushing your teeth.
- Only run the dishwasher when it is full, and if possible run it at an energy efficient setting.
- Run your washing machine at the appropriate water level.
- Only flush solids down the toilet.
- Don’t flush your toilet at night.
Topic: Giving Back and Eco-Sabbath
The pace of American life can be grueling, making it hard to carve out time to reconnect with others, and even ourselves. Yet, studies show volunteers have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer; not to mention all of the social benefits that stem from an engaged and active citizenry. When you combine volunteering with time spent outdoors, you can get twice boost, given studies show just 30 minutes in nature can improve vitality, mood, stress levels, and immunity, among others.
- Volunteer with a Different Service Group Every Day: Giving up your time to help others not only builds community spirit, but also gives you a greater appreciation of your life. There are numerous opportunities right here on campus to get involved and give back.
IMPACT coordinates volunteer opportunities within the Auburn community. Students do not have to sign up ahead of time. Just show up! Visit the IMPACT webpage to check out their weekly volunteer schedule and pick a time that works for you. All volunteers are required to fill out a waiver beforehand and students under the age of 19 must have their waiver signed by a parent or guardian.
- Campus Kitchens Project combats food waste and hunger on campus and in our community by offering over 30 shifts each week where volunteers can do food pick-up, packaging, or delivery. To sign up for a volunteer shift, visit the Campus Kitchens Project webpage.
- Another useful resource for finding service organizations to volunteer with is the AuburnServes webpage.
- Get Outside: Being outside is good for you for so many reasons, including reducing levels of depression and anxiety, enhancing focus, and boosting your immune system. Take a break from your electronics and immerse yourself in nature. If you run at the gym regularly, try doing your runs outdoors this week. Sit in your backyard with a book or journal. Get lunch or coffee with a friend, and sit on Samford or Cater lawn. Walk your dog (or yourself) at one of our many beautiful local parks. Getting outside is easy. The challenge is simple: choose a set amount of time (we recommend at least 30 minutes) to stay outside without a phone or laptop.
If none of these challenges resonate with you or seem too hard (or too easy!), consider making up one of your own or exploring one of the other ideas listed below. Remember the goal is to become more aware of all the ways our daily actions impact (both negatively and positively) our own health AND the world around us, and to realize how small changes can be the start of big results!
Other Ideas for Challenges
- Eat only local foods (grown/produced within 250 miles)
- Eat on the same budget as the average SNAP recipient ($30/week/person)
- Log your food waste
- Don’t eat out (even on campus)
- Eliminate all processed foods
- Eat a sweetener free diet
- Eat mindfully — no phone, TV, reading materials,etc. while eating
- Try a new recipe everyday that features organic, local, or meatless foods
- Don’t turn on your AC or heat all week
- Hang dry your clothes
- Declutter one space within your home everyday
- Exercise daily
- Get to know one new member of the Auburn Family everyday
- Spend time enjoying the sunrise/sunset each day