3+ ways to green study abroad offices


Behind every student studying abroad, there are dedicated staff from his or her home institution assisting with everything from program applications, financial aid, credit transfer, visas, medical preparations, cultural orientations, packing lists, and even (occasionally) luggage tags.  So, when we consider ways to make education abroad more sustainable, let’s remember those who stay behind to help create these life-changing opportunities.

In this third of a four-part blog series, I will focus on sustainability standards for staff training and office management that were developed by a subcommittee of The Forum on Education Abroad and offered as revisions to their Standards of Good Practice and Code of Ethics documents.  You can view the other three parts of this series here:

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

The general question we tried to answer was:

How [can a study abroad] organization create and maintain policies and relationships that support environmentally responsible office and on-site program management?

We came up with three general suggestions and lots of ideas.

1. Maintain clear environmental standards (e.g. recycling, purchasing, travel, energy conservation and efficiency) and conduct regular staff trainings in order to monitor and best implement these standards.


Creating environmental office standards is not unique to study abroad and there are many excellent resources available.  A good place to start is the World Resources Institute’s Working 9 to 5 on Climate Change: An Office Guide.  In addition, while more focused on entire campuses, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) developed by AASHE also has a lot of great ideas.  Two other resources of note are an Australian guide to buying and using environmentally friendly office equipment and the City of Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development’s Green Office Guide.  For a broader view on these issues, check out Wikipedia’s entry on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  I have yet to come across specific examples of environmental standards or staff trainings within study abroad offices, so please let me know if you find any (or are now inspired to create some!) and I will include them in a future blog entry.

2. Collaborate with sustainability initiatives (on or off campus) when appropriate.

According to AASHE’s just released 2010 Higher Education Sustainability Staffing Survey, there has been “an exponential growth of campus sustainability in recent years.”  While this is wonderful news, it should be noted that most initiatives focus on campus facilities and operations. Off-campus student travel is largely off-the-map when it comes to greening colleges and universities.  Collaborating with your school’s Sustainability Office or Coordinator (if there is one) helps fill a gap many didn’t even know exists and connects you to a local network of resources and support.  Perhaps there are grant or carbon offsetting opportunities that would apply to students going abroad.  If your school doesn’t have a Sustainability Office or Coordinator, reach out to eco-minded faculty or campus groups.  Ask your students if you don’t know of any.

\"ASHEE\"Thinking more broadly, I invite you to join the Sustainability Abroad Listserv, which currently has 431 subscribers who support each other in this nexus between sustainability and education abroad.  I also encourage you to subscribe to the Global Editions of the AASHE Bulletin (their weekly bulletin is also fantastic!) and the Chronicle of Higher Education.  And of course, subscribing to this blog couldn’t hurt (hint, hint).

3. Work towards minimizing the environmental, economic, and social impacts of office activities.


Many common suggestions (e.g. recycle, carpool, use CFLs and low-flow faucets) can be found in the above resources, but here are a few that are more unique or relevant:

  • Form an office committee to research, lead and monitor your sustainable practices.
  • Pose weekly or monthly “Green Challenges” to staff (and students abroad!) encouraging them to climb stairs instead of riding elevators, eat locally-produced food, or bring reusable rather than disposable containers to work.
  • Communicate electronically when possible.  For example, at Living Routes, the study abroad organization I direct, we encourage students to apply for programs and read PDFs of handbooks online.
  • If you want to go even further, consider using a non-printable PDF format developed by WWF (nee the World Wildlife Fund).  We considered this at Living Routes, but there was concern that it would annoy students.  I’d be interested in hearing experiences of others who have tried using this format.
  • Solicit returning students to host talks or discussions on interesting environmental topics.
  • Keep a donated bicycle at the office as alternative transportation.
  • Set up staff volunteer days toward conservation activities, such as trail building or weed removal.  For example, staff at Living Routes recently enjoyed helping develop a permaculture garden at UMass-Amherst.

Sustainability in study abroad is still a very young field, so new resources and ideas are showing up almost daily.  Please add your thoughts, questions, and any resources or practices you are aware of in the comments so we can continue to learn together.