Climate change and the role of international educators
“”As educators, it is our responsibility to help inform students of the implications of their choices and the ways they can offset them”
As concerns around climate change dominate the headlines, John Pearson, VP Operations at non-profit educational organisation FIE explores how educators can help to offset some of the environmentally damaging practices that occur throughout the study abroad experience.
The transformative power of travel and the value of international education is undeniable. Study abroad providers, such as we at Foundation for International Education pride ourselves on offering this opportunity to young adults so that they might become better-rounded, worldly people upon graduating and entering a global economy.
However, with the concerns around climate change dominating the headlines and elections around the world, the question of how to sustainably administer education abroad to the growing number of international students begins to glare us all in the face.
In 2017, the number of students studying outside their home country hit 5.3 million, and over 300,000 of those were Americans studying for academic credit to be transferred back to their home institutions.
While we try to be as sustainable an organisation at possible, the fact is that the air travel of American students studying abroad contributes to the carbon footprint of the broader industry. For instance, to get to Europe and back, a student from LA is looking at expending up to 6,000+ air travel miles or 3.06 metric tonnes of CO2.
Experiences abroad are now almost essential to becoming a knowledgeable global citizen in the modern world, but they are a choice, and as educators, it is our responsibility to help inform students of the implications of their choices and the ways they can offset them.
In an attempt to lead by example, FIE has recently announced that from Spring 2020, we will carbon offset all roundtrip student travel from the USA to the UK or Ireland.
Since 2012, FIE has partnered with ClimateCare to carbon offset all FIE business travel by investing in carbon reduction or zero waste projects, and we look forward to working with them further on this new endeavour.
We will also continue to provide students with public transport information and ways to reduce their carbon footprints during any extra-curricular travels (i.e. rail vs. air travel) in weekly student newsletters. In addition, ClimateCare offers a carbon calculator to students before and during their program abroad to take ownership of their travel and reduce the emissions of their activities.
To get to Europe and back, a student from LA is looking at expending up to 6,000+ air travel miles or 3.06 metric tonnes of CO2″
The struggle might begin with air travel, but unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. As a study abroad provider with locations in London and Dublin, FIE often sees first-hand the additional waste and strain on resources that come from young people who are displaced for short bursts of time.
Environmentally damaging practices occur throughout the study abroad experience – but we are keen to see that change. A large part of waste reduction in study abroad programs can be done within student residences.
FIE has been a part of the National Union of Students Student Switch Off, an energy-saving competition in our residence halls, since 2014. FIE also promotes end-of-semester donation drives and sends reminders throughout the semester about our Community Food sharing initiative. For instance, all 6 students living in a flat together might not need a 2kg bag of pasta but rather, sharing and splitting the grocery bill is a way to reduce wastage and save money.
These efforts have been eagerly adopted by our students and speak to Generation Z’s broader concerns about the planet. Overall, there has been a 22% reduction in energy usage thanks to promoting energy-saving actions to students.
“The struggle might begin with air travel, but unfortunately, it doesn’t end there”
At the end of the spring 2019 semester, 35 bags of home goods and 7 crates of food were donated to local charity shops and food shelters. FIE sustainability-based courses such as Sustainable Cities: London in the Era of Climate Change and Ecology, Environment and Economics: Market Forces and Sustainability have shown a marked increase in popularity.
We know that carbon offsetting and energy reduction are only small steps we can take while new technologies are developed. But at the moment, we believe it is the best way to reduce the carbon footprint of our activities.
We hope that our contribution to combatting the effects of global warming and the climate crisis will inspire our students and our partners in the field to follow suit.
About the author: John Pearson is VP Operations at FIE, a London-based non-profit educational organisation, providing customized partnership programs and individual student enrollment programs in London, Dublin, and Amman for undergraduate students.