Where Travel Abroad Meets Sustainability: The Green Passport

I’m delighted to introduce today’s guest blogger, Katie Bell, Director of the Green Passport Program.  I asked Katie to share the challenges of environmental issues, particularly when they intersect with our collective interest in increasing study abroad and travel.  Essentially, the question posed to Katie was: “How do we reconcile this?”

This fall, I set up a Green Passport table at my institution’s International Opportunities Fair.  I bought a green table cloth, made a “Green Passport” sign that I fastened to the table with ribbon, sprinkled some candy on the table as an enticement, and set up my laptop in the middle of the table with the Green Passport’s homepage displayed.  I didn’t have any fancy brochures, or a big poster, or a huge banner, or pens to give away, but I had an amazing resource for sustainable travel at my fingertips: the “Green Passport.”

At first students walked by without really looking.  Instead, they made a beeline for the tables with fancy brochures and handouts, pens, and better candy. But gradually a few students shyly began to wander over and ask, “What’s this Green Passport thing about?”  I was delighted to tell them all about the Green Passport.

I told them that the Green Passport is an idea and promise.  It’s an online place where students planning to travel abroad can take a pledge, promising to minimize their impact on the environment while traveling, because they share the belief that our natural resources are worth protecting, preserving, and respecting. (Feel free to read more about climate change including: The EPA’s Climate BasicsNASA’s Information on Effects of Climate Change, Health and Environmental Effects, and International Impacts of Climate Change.)

Most of these students hadn’t considered this idea before.  Some seemed genuinely interested.  A few students actually signed up, took the pledge, and became an engaged participant on the Green Passport website and network.  For me, this fair represented a good start, but also revealed the work that needs to be done.  We need help from the entire international education community to engage our students and help them to think about traveling and living in a more sustainable way.

As study abroad numbers increase, and more and more students are undertaking international experiences,  international education administrators are looking for ways to raise the subject of sustainability and travel abroad with their students. (Air travel represents approximately 2% of human-generated carbon emissions:  Here are tips to ‘green’ your flight). Simultaneously, colleges and universities around the country and world are taking a hard look at their own environmental impacts, and many institutions are creating sustainability standards and reduction goals. How can we bridge the gap and bring internationalization and sustainability together?  The Green Passport Program can help.

The Green Passport is driven by its members: you and your students. It’s only as helpful as its users help to make it.  It’s a social networking website, so members can join groups, share photos, videos, stories, blogs, ideas, tips, and other resources about greening your travel.  Did you include a few slides about sustainability in your pre-departure orientation? Share them!  Do your programs abroad have water filtration systems, instead of relying on bottled water?  Upload pictures of them!  Taking the lead at your institution by creating and maintaining a group on the Green Passport is a great way to share ideas and resources.  You can help build Green Passport momentum on your campus!

Based on conversations with colleagues at conferences and meetings, most people don’t know where to start with sustainability.  They feel lost because they don’t know enough about the science involved in global warming and climate change.  They’re not sure what people can do to minimize their impact on the environment while traveling.  There’s only one way to find out: set aside an hour in your already hectic day, close your door, turn off the ringer on your phone, and start researching.  Have questions?  The Green Passport community can help.  Post your questions, share your ideas, upload helpful links, and read articles.

If you’ve read this much of this blog post, hopefully it means that you want to do something.  Your students want to do something, too.  They need your help to get started.  What are you waiting for?  There’s a Chinese Proverb: “Talk doesn’t cook rice.”  Roll up your sleeves, and get to work.

Katie Bell, Guest Blogger

About the Author: Katie Bell has been Director of the Green Passport Program since spring 2009, and is also Assistant Director of the Center for International Experience at Yale University.  She earned her B.A. in Art at the University at Buffalo, and her M.A. in Higher Education Administration, with a focus in social and comparative education, at Columbia University.  She studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, during her junior year of college, an incredible experience that has profoundly impacted her professional goals and aspirations. In addition to being an avid traveler and environmental advocate, Katie enjoys reading, exercising, warm weather, driving fast, using her time efficiently, and spending time with her husband in their new house.

  • The Green Passport is a great way for students to study abroad in more environmentally and socially responsible ways – not just on sustainability-oriented programs like Living Routes, but on any program. Thanks Katie for sharing this work. I hope more students take the pledge and spread the word.

    • Hi Daniel. I totally agree – in fact, I received an email from a reader asking if the program would be extended beyond international education programs. Any thoughts on that? Katie, feel free to chime in too.

      • Hi Melibee. By “beyond international education programs” do you mean … interplanetary? Seriously though, there has been some interesting discussion about applying the Green Passport idea to local regions, but the word “passport” does seem to imply international. Do you have specific ideas?

        • Hi Daniel. To clarify, the person was wondering if the concept of the green passport could be extended to other industries – i.e. ‘corporate America.’ She was asking if the folks at the green passport had plans to reach out to other types of organizations besides those of us in study abroad? Hope that makes more sense!

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  • Muhammad Sulman

    If you’ve read this much of this blog post, He was asking if the folks at the Green Passport had plans to reach out to other types of organizations besides those of us in study abroad