"The Big Green Bus" left the campus of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire Wednesday for its 8th annual summer tour of the country, planning to log about 12,000 miles and travel through 30 states, and making its first official stop on Sherman Green in downtown Fairfield a few hours later.

The sustainable vehicle, which runs on either bio-diesel fuel, made from waste vegetable oil, or raw waste vegetable oil itself, and its crew of 13 Dartmouth students and recent graduates were greeted by dozens of well-wishers. They brought dishes for a pot luck dinner to share with the bus crew.

Many of the locals were friends and relatives of Nick Pavlis, 20, including his parents Al and Deirdre Pavlis of Fairfield.

Others were curious about the Big Green Bus, its conversion to sustainable fuel and its mission "to build enthusiasm for community involvement through environmental action." This year the crew has shifted its focus from direct educational programs to encouraging people to get involved in environmental efforts in their local communities. The crew also promotes sustainable living.

"It's really original and creative. It's a great idea. We support the whole environmental issue. We love the concept and support the Big Green Bus journey across the country," said Joy Hoffman of Fairfield.

"We wanted to see Nick and lend support," said Ron Hodge of Fairfield.

The Fairfield stop gave Pavlis a chance to catch up with friends from his hometown and on the campus of Greens Farms Academy in Westport, from which he graduated. The bus stopped at GFA on Thursday before leaving for New York, where the crew was to meet with some players and staff from the New York Mets. That baseball team donated waste vegetable oil to the student-run organization.

Pavlis and the rest of the crew gave tours of the bus interior and opened a former luggage compartment to reveal the tanks for storage of the alternative fuels, which are no longer as inexpensive as they once were.

Crew member Remy Franklin, 21, of Taos, N.M., said bio-diesel, made from waste vegetable oil, costs about $3.50 per gallon, comparable to standard gasoline prices. Many restaurants used to give away their waste vegetable oil because it saved them the cost of carting it away for disposal. Now, many restaurants are paid for that waste.

Pavlis said the student-operated initiative began seven years ago when a group of Dartmouth students wanted to travel to California for an Ultimate Frisbee tournament and decided to do it in an environmentally sustainable way.

"It transformed into a program run mostly by environmental studies majors who are interested in alternative fuels and sustainability in general. We also have a contingent of engineering students," Pavlis said.

The first group of students used a school bus. The program is currently using its third vehicle. The last two were donated Greyhound buses that students converted. Four solar panels on top of the bus provide the electricity to power the computers, television, refrigerator and lighting on board.

The Big Green Bus will travel to each hometown of the students and graduates, and while there is a scheduled route and work to be done, there are planned recreational stops in national parks along the way, Pavlis said.

The bus is scheduled to return to Dartmouth on Sept. 5.

Learn more about the Big Green Bus and its mission, and follow its route across the nation this summer at www.thebiggreenbus.org