Environmental Science Lab Steps Outside Classroom for Lesson on Sustainability

Published: May 10, 2023

Have you ever heard of a house made from mud and straw? Do you think you’d be able to live in one?

College of Western Idaho (CWI) students in Biology Instructor, Gary Heller’s, Environmental Science Lab (ENVI 100L) got the chance to visit a Northeast Boise home constructed of exactly those materials to see what a truly sustainable home looks like and learn about the lifestyles of those who live in it.

The 980-square-foot solar home, owned by Dr. Mark Lung, is constructed from straw bales. The home has a year-round interior temperature of 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and a zero annual energy bill due to the orientation of the house on the lot from the appropriate winter angle of the sun, the insulation afforded by the "mud"-covered straw bales, the solar water system, and the solar photovoltaic system.

Students were able to walk away from the field trip with the “three-legged stool” concept, which are environmental, social, and economic. They understand if a solution does not address all three of those areas, then it is likely, not sustainable over the long term. Lung’s home is environmentally sustainable in that it has a very low carbon footprint in its construction because it uses the “waste" material of straw and previously used materials and uses very little carbon-based fuel, socially sustainable in that is constructed with the assistance of neighbors, and economically sustainable since it is a very affordable living structure.

“Sustainability is a large part of what we discuss in Environmental Science, but it most helps students to understand this concept when they see it in action in the real world and in someone's everyday life,” said Heller. “Also, they realize it is not some far-fetched ‘tree hugger’ lifestyle, but is equivalent to their current lifestyle and probably, in the long run, more affordable.”

Heller’s Environmental Science lab goes on several field trips throughout the semester that teaches students about topics, like sustainability or water quality. Throughout the Spring 2023 semester, Heller and his classes visited the West Boise Renewal Plant, the Boise River in Star, and the Ada County Landfill.

For those interested in learning about Biology programs at CWI, contact Gary Heller at garyheller@cwi.edu or visit the program page.

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