Navigating the intersection of international education and climate responsibility

“Central to mitigating our negative impact on the climate is open dialogue and conversation”

In today’s climate-conscious world, international education, like many other industries, finds itself at a turning point. Our sector, known for broadening global horizons, fostering cross-cultural connections and sparking intellectual growth, is facing challenges around its impact on the environment.

One of the biggest concerns is the extensive travel associated with international education, contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. From intercontinental flights to daily commutes, our sector inadvertently contributes to environmental issues.

In turn, it’s imperative that we focus on managing resources like energy, infrastructure and water, and reducing waste in our educational institutions to secure a more sustainable future for international education.

On one hand, international education makes significant contributions to cultural, economic and human development advancements around the world, but it also inevitably causes environmental harm. This presents a challenging dichotomy, as our field requires global travel for these beneficial purposes. While completely eliminating our environmental impact is unrealistic, we can and should find ways to diminish it.

As the urgency of addressing climate change grows, so does the need for collaboration within our industry to reduce our impact on the environment and promote climate education and awareness. It’s time for us to have honest discussions, take responsibility and make real changes.

However, while there is an opportunity for our sector to take positive steps forward, we face a challenge.

How can we build climate literacy without a platform for open dialogue on the environmental impacts of international education? And how can we promote climate awareness when there’s no consensus on who should lead change within our sector?

Driving sustainability and environmental action at IDP

A great first step is for organisations within the international education sector to explore ways to enhance their environmental responsibility.

At IDP, we believe in harnessing the power of international education to drive positive change, and our sustainability framework reflects this belief.

This year, we updated our sustainability strategy to focus on areas where we can make the biggest impact and leverage opportunities, while recognising the global challenges and increasing complexities of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

Our sustainability strategy focuses on three key pillars. First, “Opportunity for all” focuses on expanding access to life-changing opportunities for people and communities. Second, as a “Trusted partner”, we prioritise operating with integrity globally. Finally, our “Environmental action” pillar aims to reduce our impact on the climate and promote environmentally responsible operations across our global footprint.

Our global operations produce greenhouse gas emissions across our value chain, mostly from activities outside of our direct control (Scope 3 emissions). To mitigate our impacts, we have begun implementing an emissions reduction plan, which is guided by three principles: strong governance, quality data, as well as education and engagement.

We are identifying emissions reduction opportunities across our value chain, with a particular emphasis on South Asia, our highest emitting region. In the upcoming year, we will establish regional environment committees to explore these opportunities, considering regional differences in emissions technology access, with the goal of determining necessary investments and achievable emissions reductions.

As we begin this journey, it’s important to acknowledge that we are in the early stages. We know we have a way to go, but we’re determined to be more environmentally responsible. We are committed to continuous improvement, striving to make a meaningful, lasting impact through our sustainability efforts.

Collaborating for climate action in international education

While taking individual steps and reducing carbon emissions are a good start, we know that tackling climate change and making a tangible impact requires our sector to work together.

This year, IDP joined the Climate Action Network for International Educators (CANIE) Accord as part of our commitment to driving change within international education. CANIE, an initiative led by practitioners worldwide, aims to promote greater engagement and understanding of the urgent need to address the climate crisis in our industry.

As an organisation, we have committed to 30 actions across five articles outlined in the Accord, many of which closely align to our sustainability strategy’s strategic goals.

More importantly, as part of the CANIE network, we are actively engaging in conversations with others in our sector, sharing our progress and experiences in climate action and learning from other organisations who have also made progress improving their impact on the climate. In addition to fulfilling our commitments under the Accord, we welcome opportunities to collaborate on climate-related projects within international education.

Igniting climate conversations at AIEC

Central to mitigating our negative impact on the climate is open dialogue and conversation on the challenges we are facing and the steps we are taking. Sharing this progress and our learnings has the power to catalyse our sector’s climate literacy and our growth in this space.

The upcoming Australian International Education Conference (AIEC) provides the perfect stage for international education institutions and professionals to begin important conversations about our sector’s environmental impact.

At AIEC there will be the opportunity to foster climate awareness with immersive campfire sessions designed to ignite meaningful discussions on climate change and sustainability. Participants will be invited to share their institution’s achievements while connecting and collaborating with peers.

AIEC serves as an ideal platform for open dialogue. By engaging in these discussions, we can collectively build climate literacy and develop a shared understanding of how international education can address the climate crisis. By collaborating and advocating for climate commitments, we can chart a path forward and identify sector leaders who will drive change and promote sustainability.

Let’s seize this moment to inspire positive change and create a more sustainable future for our industry and our planet. Together, we can make a difference and have a more significant impact on our shared environmental challenges.

Join us in elevating the climate conversation at this year’s AIEC here. More information about IDP’s sustainability strategy can be found in their FY23 Annual Report here.


About the author – Jo Iberg is the group manager for sustainability at IDP Education.