A dozen students on a unique college road trip were powered through Utah earlier this month on nothing more than energy gleaned from waste vegetable oil tossed by local restaurants.
The Big Green Bus tour, so-named for its mission to generate publicity for a "greener tomorrow," is doing more than attracting attention as it crisscrosses the nation.
"We're just trying to talk to people and get a discussion going about what everyone can do to change the world," said Addie Gorlin, a Dartmouth College student whose assignment is to manage local media relations for the summer tour sponsored by the private New Hampshire college and a group of like-minded companies.
"Every single person needs to think about what they can do to help the environment," said Gorlin, a Minnesota native whose bio on the group's Web site says she is "bleeding green" with the rest of the bus crew. "We don't have to wait for the government to do something first about climate change."
The Big Green Bus is, in itself, an education for those riding it and watching it pass by. The 1996 school bus, painted a bright green and retrofitted with solar panels, a small wind turbine, deep cycle batteries and an inverter to power onboard appliances, is also a 37-foot-long rolling museum. The students eat, sleep and blog on board, keeping their energy-wise ideas of sustainable living and alternative fuels in the public eye.
"It's exciting to sponsor another green tour of our great nation," said Susan Hayward, spokeswoman for one of the bus sponsors, Waste Management of Utah. "We are dedicated to being good stewards of the environment, making our communities safer, cleaner and better places to live and work. The Big Green Bus is a perfect way to spread the word."
It's actually the fourth summer road trip in the Big Green Bus for Dartmouth students who vow to travel 12,000 miles around the country in a veggie-oil-powered bus. This year, the bus will wend its way from Moab through southern Utah and on to California, where a host of activities are planned for the students.
"We're really getting an awesome education," Gorlin said from a cafe in Moab. "When we pull into a city, people are really attracted to us. They want to know more about what we're all about."
The ultimate goal of the Big Green Bus, according to the tour's Web site, is simple.
"Through education and example, we seek to inspire Americans to reconsider their relationship to the planet and each other to become more environmentally responsible citizens at home, at work, and in the voting booth."
One of the first things the students do when the bus rolls into a new town is search for a willing donor.
"We recycle vegetable oil straight from the vats of restaurants, and sometimes we even have to get it from dumpsters," Gorlin said. "Sometimes it takes us two or three stops to find a restaurant that's willing to give us their waste vegetable oil."
Along the way, the bus also attracts its fair share of curiosity seekers, she added.
"Mostly it's the younger kids who come up to the bus and want to go inside for a tour. It's not fair to generalize, but we've had some older people who have been more interested in lecturing us than listening to us," Gorlin said. "But we've had plenty of others who were really wise, so it was good to hear the other side of things."To follow the Big Green Bus tour and learn more about the trip's objectives, visit the Web site thebiggreenbus.org.