Student attempts to reduce carbon footprint
By Lindsay Wallace
photo by Lindsay Wallace
Sophomore Rachael Koontz pledged to apply Colin Beavan's
No Impact Man experiment to her own life.
UW-Fox student Rachael Koontz made a commitment to make no impact on the environment after reading an inspirational book in her environmental biology class.
Collin Beavan, writer and author of 2009's No Impact Man, motivated Koontz' experiment. Beavan is an average man living in New York who had environmental concerns about the present and future. He decided to start a one-year project with his wife, daughter Isabella and pet dog to see if they could leave no carbon footprint.
A documentary with the same title also came out that year, following the family on their endeavor to make no net environmental impact.
"Seeing what he does and what he tries to do and how he tries to alter his lifestyle was really motivating for me," Koontz said.
Koontz took what Beavan's book taught her and exposed her to, and decided to apply it to her own life for a biology independent study.
The course was designed for Koontz, and she will receive three credits after she completes the study.
Although it's only one semester long, the class took a lot of time and effort on her part. She started the project last June by journaling everything and slowly making life changes.
Some of these changes included acts like turning her heat and air conditioner down and reducing her water usage. When it rained, Koontz would collect the rainwater in containers and use it to water her garden. She also cut back on most of her garbage, which meant the convenience of paper plates and packaged foods were out of the question.
"We live in a society of convenience and that's where a big part of the problem is," Koontz said.
Immediately after reading "No Impact Man", Koontz knew she wanted to do something to make a difference and help the environment.
"I really wanted to give this a go and see what happens with it," Koontz said.
Beavan's idea of making no impact on our environment included producing zero trash, refrain from use of public transportation or elevators, and using no electricity like air conditioning or television.
"He went very extreme and as much as it would be really cool to see what it's like roughing it for somebody in this area, I think it would be very very challenging and almost impossible," Koontz said.
However, this is exactly what motivated her to do the project. She wanted to discover if making no impact on our environment was practical for someone living in the Fox Valley.
What Koontz found was that although she wasn't as extreme as Beavan, still occasionally using a paper plate in the morning or turning the heat on in winter and the air conditioner on in the summer, her changes were important.
"It's the small things. There's such a tremendous amount of impact that every small thing you do has. It effects things you would never think of," Koontz said.
She discovered it was no easy task.
"The hardest part is breaking habits," Koontz said.
Her professor Joy Perry agreed.
"Becoming aware of our practices is the first step and probably the biggest step," Perry said.
Koontz had to put an end to some of her daily routines to make a minimal amount of impact on the environment.
"I'd wake up in the morning and turn on my TV. I wasn't watching it but I'd turn it on just out of habit," Koontz said.
After she broke that and other habits, she found going back to them was just as challenging.
"Once you get into that habit and you realize the impacts, the negative impacts that your old habits have on the environment, it really bothers you. At least it bothers me to go back and use the plastic plates that you're just going to throw away. It's challenging but if I don't do it I feel really guilty," Koontz said.
One big change she made was her diet. Our society eats a lot of processed foods, which contain disposable packaging and contribute to the nation's alarming amount of trash. This led Koontz to go on an all-natural diet.
She removed all the sugar and white flour from her diet and swapped it for local foods in the area or produce grown in her garden.
Eating locally grown, plant-based foods made a significant difference in helping the environment.
"So many fossil fuels are used in the production of animal meats, corn products, soy, fast foods et cetera, and that if we are able to even eliminate a few items from our everyday diets, it will save literally millions of gallons of oil, and reduce a significant amount of carbon emissions," Koontz said.
Not only does changing your lifestyle help the environment, but it has many other benefits as well.
For example, Koontz had some health problems with her liver and stomach before this project. She would get tests done regularly and after switching from processed foods to natural foods, all her previous health issues went away and her tests are now normal.
Koontz found she made better connections with people as well. Beavan also discusses this in his book. He shares how he, his wife and young daughter have become closer since his project.
Now, instead of coming home from work and sitting in front of the television and ordering take out, they come home talk to each other, cook a meal together and eat as a family.
This project was not just a section of her life, but Koontz made it a lifestyle.
"I'm still doing this, it's still working. I feel better about myself and I'm healthier," Koontz said.
Perry was impressed with Koontz.
"It's not easy going to try and reduce your environmental impact, it can be kind of hard," Perry said.
"I was excited because it's nice when people take things from class and want to figure out how they can apply what they learned to their own lives."
As for Koontz's future plans, she is continuing her interest in the environment by transferring to UW-Stevens Point next semester and majoring in wildlife ecology, research and management.
She encourages others to challenge themselves and make a change in their lives in order to help better the environment we live in.