Eco-travel is the new travel, sustainable energy is the new fossil fuel, and not-murdering-baby-seals-with-massive-petroleum-spillage is the new…well…you get the idea. But in a constantly evolving travel marketplace where airlines and travel agents alike are quick to stamp their products with the newest, greenest buzzword, how can the consumer possibly tell green from gray? Simply labeling a vacation package as carbon neutral or eco-friendly doesn’t make it so; clever marketing is often at play. And the same goes for study abroad programs; how can the environmentally concerned student choose an appropriate study abroad program? Fortunately, there are options.
First, research study abroad programs that have a focus on sustainability or that are committed to minimizing environmental impact. While traditional study abroad programs still dominate the market, green programs are certainly available, albeit harder to find.
At the forefront, perhaps, of the eco-abroad movement is Living Routes, a dynamic study abroad program that offers academic credit through UMass Amherst. Living Routes allows students to live in aptly named “eco-villages” for a summer or a semester. These villages are ecological communities in which students are educated about relevant issues like sustainable development, green building, and organic agriculture. Ecovillage programs are offered on six continents, in locations ranging from a Kibbutz in Israel to a co-op in the Andean-Amazon region of Peru. These communities, built to be sustainable and indefinite, aim to train and educate young people to take an active approach towards ecological responsibility. Moreover, Living Routes aims to effect drastic lifestyle changes among its students and to promote a lifelong commitment to sustainability. For more on Living Routes, visit their website and check out this interview with the program’s founder, Daniel Greenberg.
Another leader in eco-friendly study abroad is the EcoQuest Education Foundation, which offers programs in New Zealand focusing on natural resource management and sustainability. The School for Field Studies (SFS) is another top choice for ecologically responsible students, offering for-credit semester and summer programs within the field of environmental studies. SFS trains students to deal with local environmental problems and to help developing communities better manage natural resources.
But attending a so-called “green” study abroad program is only half the battle. The biggest environmental gains can be made on an individual basis. Traveling by air to your study abroad destination alone pumps massive amounts of CO2 gasses into the atmosphere. A one way flight from New York to London, for instance, emits nearly one ton of harmful CO2 gas per person. But unless you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance of Ciudad Juárez, air travel is often the only viable option, so these emissions may be unavoidable. But keeping with the green trend, many organizations now offer carbon-offset credits for purchase. Companies like TerraPass and Carbon Planet sell credits to offset emissions from air travel. Carbon credits are not, of course, a sustainable solution to curb global climate change, as they merely serve to balance out pollution but do nothing to reduce actual emissions; all cynicism aside, they certainly can’t hurt.
But when it comes to reducing your global footprint, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. It’s the changes you make on an individual basis that make the most positive–or least negative–impact on the environment. If you’re serious about going green abroad, try these tips:
1. Use public transportation when at all possible.
2. Better yet, ride a bike.
3. Live in a homestay. Sharing space and with a local family will cut down on carbon emissions. Plus, you’ll have a unique cultural experience.
4. Save energy by consciously cutting down on water and electricity use.
5. Buy local. Buy local snacks from street vendors, not from supermarkets, to reduce fossil fuels needed to import packaged food. Plus, you’ll sample local cuisine.
If you’re truly committed to going green abroad, choose an eco-friendly program and make the necessary changes on an individual basis. Going green means being ecologically responsible and consciously cutting down on carbon emissions; it doesn’t require forgoing showers and wrapping your dreads in a tie-dye headband…but that’s not to say you can’t totally get in touch with your chakras, man.
Go here to calculate your global footprint.