While air travel certainly accounts for the lion’s share of environmental impacts associated with education abroad, if you’ve ever been to a study abroad fair you know there’s more to the story. In my last three blog posts I shared about how to green the field of study abroad in the following areas:

  1. Program Design and Management
  2. Student Learning
  3. Staff Training and Office Management
  4. Promotion

To conclude this blog series, I will address the question of how study abroad organizations can minimize resource use and waste during promotion of their programs. As before, these recommendations stem from my work with The Forum on Education Abroad‘s Subcommittee on Sustainability Standards and our revisions to their Standards of Good Practice and Code of Ethics documents. We came up with three broad suggestions and lots of embedded ideas.

1) Direct students to websites whenever possible and create/use promotional brochures and giveaway items that are “resource-light” and made from recycled and/or compostable materials.

I find it sad when students leave study abroad fairs laden with reams of program materials and pockets bulging with plastic schwag, most of which will end up in the trash before the week is over. While offering boxes at exits for students to deposit materials for re-use and recycling is helpful, the best strategy is to reduce these materials at the source. Most students research their options online anyway, so all they really need to walk away with is a bunch of URLs. Also, if your office or organization does not yet have a Facebook Page, it’s time to consider creating one.

tsunamika-dollsAt CAPE, my consultancy which develops Custom Academic Programs in Ecovillages, I’m most proud of our “Sustainable Schwag.” Since, 2007, I’ve been working with Upasana Design Studio in Auroville, an international community in south India. After the tsunami in 2004, members of Upasana worked with village women to develop the Tsunamika doll, which is hand-made from scrap fabric and is a symbol of hope and resilience. We attach a small card (100% recycled of course) with basic information about the dolls and CAPE and have given thousands away at fairs and events. People love them because they’re so beautiful and unique and we love supporting this great organization doing really valuable village development work.

2) Practice sustainable event management.

Study abroad fairs, conferences, and even information sessions can all benefit from considering their environmental impacts. A few good resources to get you started include Yale’s Office of Sustainability’s Sustainable Event Guidelines and Sustainable Communities downloadable brochure on How to Plan a Sustainable Event. Here’s a few ideas from these resources:

  • Choose a site that people can walk, bike or take a bus to.
  • Work with suppliers that are committed to sustainable practices.
  • Hold the event during the day to utilize natural lighting.
  • Promote the event electronically and offer online registration.
  • Create name tags and signage that are re-usable.
  • Use local foods, provide vegan/vegetarian options, and compost organic waste.
  • Educate participants and vendors about the event’s sustainability practices.

3) Seek ways to minimize the environmental impacts of staff travel.

While it is unreasonable to expect education abroad professionals not to travel, we should always be careful to minimize non-essential travel and to combine trips whenever possible. Consider virtual meetings via teleconferences, Skype or Zoom, and webinars, especially in lieu of long-haul flights. And when you do travel, consider onsetting your travel emissions and supporting local sustainability projects via Earth Deeds.

virtual-tablingIn addition to being a Skype addict and using webinars to offer virtual information, orientation, and re-entry sessions about our programs, I am proud to have pioneered the practice of virtual tabling at study abroad fairs by setting up a computer through which students can videoconference with staff. It does have a habit of freaking out some students who assume it is a video (Agh! You can see me?!), but we have found it to be a fun way to connect with potential students, reduce our environmental impacts, and save time and money to boot!

I hope you have enjoyed this blog series about sustainability in study abroad and have found some of these ideas useful. I’m always interested in further developing this topic so please add your ideas, suggestions and questions in the comments. Thanks!