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OCS & Environmental Sustainability

At Carleton, we strive to integrate sustainability into our thinking and actions, both on and off-campus. While study abroad presents an opportunity to enhance our understanding of different ways of living and reflect on our own positions of privilege and efficacy, it can also contribute to deleterious environmental effects: international flights emit greenhouse gases and high traffic tourist destinations concentrate local resource consumption. As a responsible student abroad, you should gain an awareness of your destination and the impact your presence has on the local community and environment, and then attempt to minimize these negative impacts. No matter your destination, here are some tips for sustainable travel abroad:

Environmental Considerations

• Learn about current environmental issues in the places you are visiting. Different regions will have different situations based on their ecosystems. Learn about the effects of mass tourism on beaches, mountains, wetlands, deserts, etc. and then seek to counter those effects.

• Use water sparingly. Many communities face water shortages and water usage costs money. One small gesture you can make is to take quick showers.

• Carry a Reusable Water Bottle. If tap water is safe where you are traveling, reduce your environmental impact abroad by avoiding bottled water and bring a reusable water bottle with you abroad. If the tap water is unsafe, encourage your program to invest in water purification systems (chlorine drops, filters, etc) for the group instead of buying bottled water to decrease your waste from plastic packaging and likely save money over the course of your trip.

• Use local and public transport whenever possible. Take a train or bus. Bike or walk. Try to fly less; airplanes produce massive amounts of ozone-depleting carbon dioxide.

• Buy Local, Eat Local. Rather than heading to a chain grocery or department store (where more energy is used to ship food further distances), stop by the market or a street stand and learn about local foods from folks who are directly involved in its distribution.

• Don't litter! Even if you notice the locals doing so, try to find a container to dispose of your trash.

• Don't buy products made from endangered species or valuable, historical, or cultural artifacts. Ask about where a product comes from. Many of these products are illegal to export. Report incidences to local or national conservation organizations.

• Don't disturb the wildlife. Maintain a proper distance at all times. Don't use loud, motorized equipment among small communities of people or in areas where there is wildlife.

• Choose your recreational activities wisely. Low impact sports that don't involve a lot of equipment or fossil fuels and that don't disturb the environment or local communities are preferable.

Socio-Cultural Considerations

• Research your destination. Learn about its history, political situation, current events, cultural groups and intercultural dynamics, religion, geography, cuisine, transportation, etc.

• If you don't already have proficiency, learn at least a few basic phrases in your host community's language. Learn how people greet each other and practice that greeting. Body language is also important. Be astute and adapt your body language appropriately.

• Find out about local taboos and customs by asking people who have traveled before you and by consulting guidebooks, and then respect them.

• Dress appropriately. Respecting the dress code where you are is very important, especially around religious sites.

• Be snapshot savvy. Don't experience your entire trip through the lens of a camera. Ask locals before taking photographs of them or activities they are involved in.

• Learn about something you're interested in while you travel. Do you have a passion or hobby? Find out how people in another culture approach or deal with the same theme.

• Get off the beaten path. Seek out events that are not mentioned in guidebooks and places that are not overcrowded with like-minded tourists. Go where the locals go; however, use your discretion and don't infringe on people's private activities and spaces.

• Bring small, thoughtful gifts from home if you know that you are going to be spending time with a local family or in a community.

Economic Considerations

•Go Local. Stay in locally owned accommodations, eat at locally owned restaurants, and hire local guides. Usually, smaller equals better. If you decide to go on a guided tour through a tour agency, ask about their sustainability practices (e.g. what do they do with garbage generated, who do they employ, who is the agency owned by?)

•Contribute something to the place or community you are visiting, beyond just the money you are spending to get what you want. Plan ahead to contribute some time and volunteer at an organization that you deem worthy. It would be wise to research what organizations exist and contact them to inquire whether they receive volunteers before you leave.

• Consider your destination's commitment to sustainable practices including their human rights record, environmental conservation record, commitment to peace.

Adapted from Yale’s Tips for Sustainable Travel Abroad

Resources for Sustainable Travel

Transitions Abroad article

Responsible Travel Report

Global Footprint Network

Grace Communications Foundation