Is the Footprint of International Education Too Big?

June 02, 2011

By Lisa Schock

Is the footprint of international education too big? This was one of the main questions tackled Wednesday afternoon during a special seminar at NAFSA's annual conference titled "Be Part of the Solution: The Role of International Education in Sustainability." A panel of sustainability experts moderated by Linda Coady, distinguished fellow at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia and manager of the social, economic, and environmental footprint of the 2010 Winter Olympics, provided an overview of the problem along with a look at model programs and tools designed to help manage the potentially harmful impacts of international education activities.

Daniel Greenberg, founder and director of Living Routes, a nonprofit that partners with the University of Massachusetts to offer study abroad programs based in "ecovillages" around the world, spoke about ecovillages in Scotland, India, and Massachusetts that are helping bridge the gap between academia and sustainability initiatives. "Sustainability is not just an issue for the environmental programs," he said. "International education must get involved to educate and empower students and support local ecosystems."

Tools such as Living Routes' Carbon Commitment Calculator, the Climate Culture Web site, and Green Passport can aid in determining and understanding the impact of travel on the environment.

Charles Hopkins, UNESCO chair on Reorienting Teacher Education to Address Sustainability at York University in Toronto, said that it's important that students have the experience of working closely with international worldviews so they are better able to work through challenging global issues with others.

"Our students will have to learn to sit and talk with other students in other countries around the world." and realize they themselves don't have all the answers, he said.

Chris Bottrill, dean of tourism at Capilano University in North Vancouver, said that while international education has many benefits, it requires mobility and impacts climate change. He suggested that we need to rethink education and help students become activists for sustainability.

"Sustainability can work in so many ways and this only happens through international education when people work together and learn from one another in so many different ways."


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