Leaving a Foot Print

By Keyser, Chris | Earth Island Journal, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Leaving a Foot Print


Keyser, Chris, Earth Island Journal


Students at the University of Southern Maine (USM) are challenging each other and their communities to live more sustainably in USM FootPrint, a green living column published weekly in the campus newspaper Free Press. The popular column was launched two years ago as part of USM's Environmental Literacy program and features student perspectives on diverse issues from biodiesel buses to bottled water to honoring Rachel Carson, Maine's most celebrated environmental writer.

While the essays explore the myriad challenges of treading more lightly on the planet, some student writers also weave humor and satire into their columns. "Running naked through the woods," "The search for free parking," and "Are bicyclists sexier, or do they just have more sex?" are several of the more creative topics featured in recent FootPrint columns, some of which are penned by students in an environmental writing course. Other FootPrint columns have come from papers assigned by professors in some of the 100 environmental courses offered at USM.

"The goal of the column is to market sustainability on campus," explains Dudley Greeley, coordinator of the Environmental and Economic Sustainability program for USM, a public university with four campuses in Portland, Augusta, Lewiston-Auburn, and Gotham, Maine. "It helps the entire campus community make connections between what we all do every day and our quality of life and the health of the biosphere. That's a very challenging thing to do."

For example, one column made a link between buying bottled water and threatening the health of Lake Sebato in southern Maine. Another column, "The way air should be," a play on Maine's state motto "The way life should be," reported on a major conference on climate change last year at Harvard College. Other columns explored the global dilemma "Can we feed ourselves without consuming the planet?" and instructed readers "How to drink water on any budget."

"The best aspect of FootPrint is that it engages students in the challenging task of communicating with fellow students about these issues," Greeley says. "The criteria asks them to do this in a constructive and hopefully a funny and hopeful fashion: don't tell people what to do. Tell them a story about what people have done."

"This is not a green tips column," he stresses. "The column is used to promote and recognize activities that are already happening. Ideally it links something going on on campus to the principle of sustainability."

Three FootPrint columns debated the USM Biodiesel Partnership Initiative, a student campaign to convert USM buses to biodiesel fuel. After USM students voted overwhelmingly to increase student fees by $1 a year to pay for the biodiesel fuel university officials reluctantly agreed to a trial test but balked at implementing the full biodiesel initiative. …

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