At Carleton, we strive to integrate sustainability into our thinking and actions. The same is true for off-campus studies. As a responsible student abroad, you should be mindful of the impact your presence has on the local communities and environment and find ways to minimize any negative effects.

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.

Adapted from Yale’s 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 disproportionately large amounts of 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.

Adapted from Yale’s Tips for Sustainable Travel Abroad

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

Carbon Off-Setting

What is a carbon offset?

Individuals and businesses can purchase offsets to reduce their carbon footprint. In other words, financially support a company that is working to take carbon out of the atmosphere, generally to represent the carbon added to the atmosphere through certain activities. The monetary support by you would provide these carbon offset companies with resources necessary to reduce the amount of carbon emitted and present in the atmosphere.

What are some carbon offset projects?

Carbon offset projects all have one main goal: To reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Very common projects include carbon sequestration (planting trees), methane capture (landfill covering), and renewable energies.

What are the different types of carbon offsetting?

You can offset much more efficiently by buying solar panels rather than through planting trees. However, solar panels only change the carbon emissions “slope” to slightly less positive. Trees actually offset the carbon produced changing the positive slope to a negative slope. Unlike solar panels, trees actually suck the carbon from the air, while solar panels replace otherwise carbon emitting power sources like coal plants. As such there is no clear “winner” for carbon offsetting methods; each method has two sides to it. It is up to you to weigh each one and decide for yourself which ones you want to support. This is a great fact to keep in mind when choosing what type of carbon offsetting you want to commit to.

How expensive are they?

The cost of carbon offsetting varies depending on the company the money is donated to and the length of the flight. For an average flight, the cost per tonne of carbon ranges between $10 and $15 dollars. For example a flight from Washington D.C. to London is 3674 miles and uses 1.34 tonnes of Carbon having a total carbon offset cost of $20.751.

How does this reduce the campus carbon footprint?

Carbon offsetting does not actually reduce your carbon footprint. You would be supporting projects elsewhere in the world, hence offsetting the carbon that you produce. In other words, you’re supplementing the carbon you produced by committing to projects that reduce the amount of future carbon emissions.

If it doesn’t reduce our footprint, why would you purchase them?

You can strive to reduce our emissions and be as efficient as possible. Unfortunately for off-campus study programs and traveling, you can not reduce the amount of air miles traveled. So instead of reducing flights and carbon, offset them.

How do you know that projects are being completed and it’s not just a scam?

There are a lot of companies out there and it is important to do research in choosing the right company. There are many resources that help guide people on choosing the right company. Although there isn’t a way to know for certain where the money is being used in projects, certain certifications indicate their legitimacy. When looking for projects to donate towards, make sure to scan for certifications; Green-e is a venerable certification.

With one company, Chooose, you fund UN-verified CO2-reducing projects in developing countries.

Other options include:

  1. TerraPass  
  2. Carbon Footprint 
  3. Carbon Fund