University of Calgary

Common Reading Program gets personal with provocative selection: No Impact Man

UToday HomeJuly 29, 2013

By David Hedley

Author, speaker, and sustainability advocate Colin Beavan will speak at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 3, to highlight the Common Reading Program and Fall Orientation Week. Image courtesy NoImpactProject Author, speaker, and sustainability advocate Colin Beavan will speak at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 3, to highlight the Common Reading Program and Fall Orientation Week. Image courtesy NoImpactProject Do you believe — really believe — that one person can make a difference in sustaining the health of the Earth’s environment?

That question lies at the heart of No Impact Man, a book you’ll be hearing more about at the University of Calgary in the coming weeks and months.

No Impact Man is the selection in this year’s Common Reading Program. Written by Colin Beaven, the book describes an experiment by a Manhattan family to produce no net environmental footprint for an entire year.

What the book is about

While Beaven doesn’t let industry and government off the hook in their responsibilities to safeguard the environment, his argument is that personal, ingrained, misinformed lifestyle choices constitute a greater threat to the planet’s well-being. We won’t reverse this trend unless we’re willing to honestly rethink habits around runaway consumption and consumer convenience, he writes.

Surprisingly, as Beaven devotes a year to researching and embracing truly sustainable choices, a gentle, rhythmic way of life slowly reveals itself. He finds himself more connected to immediate family, friends, neighbours, producers of food and services, and even total strangers.

Beaven’s reflections raise provocative questions about the consequences of unquestioned habits, our individual responsibility to take the initiative, and the significance of sustainability to the broader community — making No Impact Man a compelling conversation-starter for this year’s Common Reading Program.

How Common Reading Program works

Now in its third year, the Common Reading Program is designed to give incoming students at the University of Calgary a shared academic experience, encouraging them to begin exploring leadership within their roles on campus and in the larger community.

New undergraduate and graduate students are invited to read the book as part of Fall Orientation Week, then take part in online discussions, a contest, and community events. Students can hear the author speak in person on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013.

The three objectives are to promote a conversation among students, faculty and staff along a common theme; demonstrate the academic values of reading, writing, critical thinking and discussion; and engage students in discussions of leadership and active citizenship.

“We are so proud to be able to offer our students the Common Reading Program,” says Susan Barker, vice-provost (student experience). “It’s an excellent avenue for students to start building connections with their classmates, professors and the university community. It also provides students with the skills necessary to really begin exploring leadership; in their personal lives, on campus, and in their communities.”

Students can sign up here to receive a free copy of the book. Faculty, staff, or upper-year students who would like to get involved in a volunteer support role can also receive a free copy by signing up as a facilitator online or by emailing crp@ucalgary.ca.

Message of the book gets personal

Paula Kutzner, a fourth-year Kinesiology student, says the campus events associated with the Common Reading Program help make the central messages of the book more personal. “This book challenges students to think critically about the problems that surround climate change and their personal impact,” says Kutzner, who works as an academic assistant in Leadership and Student Engagement.

Beavan blogs on 'what each of us can do to end our environmental crisis and hopefully come up with a happier way of life.' Photo courtesy No Impact ManBeavan blogs on “what each of us can do to end our environmental crisis and hopefully come up with a happier way of life,” at noimpactman.typepad.com. Photo courtesy No Impact Man“University is a transitional time, a time to re-evaluate personal values and aspirations,” she says. “Throughout No Impact Man, the author is rethinking his own values. He’s a powerful example of thoughtful, purposeful transformation.”

Taking back the quality of our lives

The book highlights personal choice as the arena where the Earth’s future environmental health will ultimately be decided. A key theme is how we, as consumers, reach out for convenience and how that can impact our personal and family well-being. This theme, and how we can take back our quality of life, resonates with Joanne Perdue, chief sustainability officer for the university.

“In our busy lives, we may lose sight of the quality of life,” says Perdue. “Conveniences can strip away the riches of everyday life.”

 

For more stories on how students, staff and faculty are stepping up together to turn SustainabilityON or to learn how you can become involved, visit: www.ucalgary.ca/sustainability.

 

Follow UToday on Twitter.
Check the UToday website for news about events, people and trends at University of Calgary.
Follow what’s happening on campus using our interactive calendar.