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Wisdom for Traveling Far: Making Educational Travel Sustainable

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Wisdom for Traveling Far: Making Educational Travel Sustainable

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Educational travel has been demonstrated to be an effective means of education to develop sustainable and pro-environmental behaviors. However, as this paper reviews, recent scholarship has revealed that educational travel may harm the communities that host it even while it is achieving gains for students. This paper encourages educational travel providers (institutions, staff, and faculty) to leverage the need for a broader perspective towards sustainability in educational travel programs so that their host communities also benefit. The programs can accomplish this by engaging students in the process of making the programs and their participants more sustainable. The paper ends with several examples from the author's own experience as an educational travel leader and several recommendations to reduce the negative impacts on host communities.
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sustainability
Concept Paper
Wisdom for Traveling Far: Making Educational
Travel Sustainable
Brack W. Hale
Environmental Studies, Franklin University Switzerland, 6924 Sorengo, Switzerland; bhale@fus.edu
Received: 15 April 2019; Accepted: 28 May 2019; Published: 30 May 2019
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Abstract:
Educational travel has been demonstrated to be an eective means of education to develop
sustainable and pro-environmental behaviors. However, as this paper reviews, recent scholarship
has revealed that educational travel may harm the communities that host it even while it is achieving
gains for students. This paper encourages educational travel providers (institutions, sta, and faculty)
to leverage the need for a broader perspective towards sustainability in educational travel programs
so that their host communities also benefit. The programs can accomplish this by engaging students
in the process of making the programs and their participants more sustainable. The paper ends
with several examples from the author’s own experience as an educational travel leader and several
recommendations to reduce the negative impacts on host communities.
Keywords:
educational travel; higher education; sustainability; experiential education; climate
change; host communities
1. Introduction
Wits are needful for someone who travels widely . . . Hávamál [1]
Educational travel programs, i.e. programs including field courses, study abroad, and semester
exchanges where students have learning experiences in locations far from campus and typically abroad,
have been shown to be eective learning environments where students develop sustainable and
pro-environmental behaviors that extend beyond the programs (in some cases, well into their adult
lives) regardless of the program’s thematic focus [
2
5
]. The experience of traveling, living out of a
suitcase, and being exposed to dierent cultures perhaps teaches participants to live more simply and
eciently, whether they go to China to study international business, Italy to study Renaissance art, or
Tanzania to study savanna ecology. It comes then as no surprise that educational travel programs that
focus on environmental issues and sustainability, such as a travel to Costa Rica to study conservation
biology, also show better outcomes in the development of students’ environmental and sustainable
competencies than counterpart courses on home campuses [
6
9
]. As such, students who participate
in educational travel, particularly in programs that encourage experiential learning and focus on
sustainability or the environment, are better equipped to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Still, an important question that universities must ask is what cost do we incur by achieving
these learning outcomes. As awareness of the impacts of climate change today and in the near future
increases, there is a growing call to limit travel and to avoid travel that generates greenhouse gases:
A Washington Post opinion piece pleas to the reader with its title: “for the love of the Earth, stop
traveling” [
10
]; in Sweden, a movement is afoot to vacation by train rather than plane, inspired in
part by the actions of a 16-year old Swede, Greta Thunberg, who famously travelled by train from
Stockholm to the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2019 to demand action on climate change from
world leaders [
11
]. Even in the academic literature, Dvorak et al. [
12
] discussed that one possible
approach to dealing with educational travel’s greenhouse gas emissions is to stop traveling (in the
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048; doi:10.3390/su11113048 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048 2 of 12
end, they opt for a less severe approach with a more intentional type of educational travel). However,
Dvorak et al. were not wrong—in a world striving to prevent catastrophic climate change, educational
travel that involves greenhouse gas emissions begs rationalization. Climate change aside, educational
travel programs can also be intrusive in host communities and environments [
13
15
]. Thus, to make
the benefits of educational travel sustainable for all stakeholders involved, program leaders and the
universities or sponsoring organizations have to address the currently unsustainable aspects of their
programs. In this paper, I briefly review the benefits of educational travel and the costs to the host
destination and its resources. Then, reflecting on my own experiences and research, I explore ways to
engage the student learning process in crafting more sustainable educational programs.
2. A Brief Review of the Benefits of Educational Travel
Educational travel programs hold great potential as vehicles for learning. According to
Lutterman-Aguilar and Gingerich [
16
], educational travel goes hand in hand with experiential
education, a recognized approach to teaching and learning. However, a travel with experiences is not
in itself experiential education. The instructor or program staneeds to leverage experiences with
time and space for reflection, analysis, and synthesis. Likely the results seen in the studies mentioned
above [
2
4
] are due in part to program settings that engaged students in aspects of experiential
learning. An intentionality behind experiential learning has since been echoed in multiple studies as
an important driver of learning outcome achievement [
7
,
17
,
18
]. The educational experience can also
be enhanced by incorporating active learning and student research, which were shown in a recent
study to be the most eective high impact learning experiences in (US) undergraduate education [
19
].
The study abroad experience was also ranked as an eective high impact experience, primarily with
respect to intercultural competencies outcomes. It stands to reason that combining these elements
(experiential education, active learning, student research) in an educational travel program creates a
powerful learning environment for pro-environmental and sustainability learning goals.
Many of the studies examining positive student outcomes from educational travel experiences
discuss the experiences as experiential and transformative [
6
,
18
,
20
]. Often, existing studies are
situated in the concept of global citizenship, which has become an important objective of many higher
education institutions. Tarrant [
18
] posits that pro-environmental behaviors are part and parcel of
global citizenship. His framework emphasizes the need for students to develop both awareness of
environmental issues and their impacts as well as a sense of the ability to act to eect positive change.
Thus, educational travel can be, in these circumstances, an important tool for universities to achieve
the goal of creating global citizens. A synthesis of several studies that have used Tarrant’s framework
found significant gains in global citizenship, pro-environmental, and sustainability-related outcomes
for students who study abroad [
6
]. Gains were particularly strong for students in programs that focused
on sustainability themes. Although several of these studies focused on short-term experiences, Strange
and Gibson [
21
] found that longer (>18 days) educational travel programs can create transformative
experiences with greater eects. Students in that study identified field trips, writing assignments,
interactions with the local community, and self-reflection to be the more eective parts of the experience
for them.
3. The Elephant on the Plane: The Other Side of Educational Travel
As a scholar of sustainability and a leader of educational travel programs, I have been interested
in the sustainability (economic, environmental, and socio-cultural) of these programs, particularly with
respect to host communities and environments. The research discussed in the last section demonstrates
the positive impact educational travel programs can have on students’ learning and particularly
student knowledge of and engagement in sustainable practices. If these outcomes translate into better
environmental citizens, the students’ home regions and countries, as well at the globe as a whole, stand
to benefit. However, these gains for students (and their home regions) should not come at the cost of
distant communities and their environments. If they do, we are perhaps looking at a modern oshoot
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048 3 of 12
of colonial exploitation [
22
]. Carbon emissions from global travel aect the entire world, but certainly
the impacts fall most heavily on people who often could not aord an international flight. Resource
exploitation and societal disruptions in host environments may linger long after students have returned
to their home countries. A literature review I completed with two colleagues situated educational
travel within the realm of tourism and discussed how impacts are likely similar [
15
]. Educational
travel programs often generate air pollution (most notably greenhouse gas emissions) in traveling
to, from, and within their destinations. Once on-site, the programs and their participants consume
local resources, produce waste, and may degrade local environments. Revenue from the program
may or may not benefit the local community, depending on choices made for lodging, eating, and
traveling around the area. Lastly, (larger) groups of students can be disruptive in local communities,
introduce undesirable behaviors, and contribute to the exploitation of local cultures. The impacts
however need not all be negative, as programs can bring important revenue to remote areas and can
encourage conservation and other positive environmental behaviors. Ultimately, the kind and level of
impacts depend upon logistical choices made by program leaders, individual decisions by students,
and policies of the programs and local hosts, among others.
The carbon cost alone may be reason enough for us to question the sustainability of educational
travel programs, regardless of future benefits for their participants. Recent reports speak of the urgent
need to reduce carbon emissions and the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere [
23
,
24
]. Using
data from 2018 Open Doors factsheets for regional educational travel to and from the US [
25
], I roughly
estimated the total carbon dioxide emissions for these (undergraduate) students to be 2.5 million tonnes
(Figure 1), which is greater than the carbon dioxide emissions of the lowest emitting 65 countries in
2014 [
26
] or the equivalent of approximately 150,000 US Americans (see Appendix Afor full calculation
methodology). It is important to note that these estimates only account for educational travel to and
from the US and thus do not include programs like Erasmus in Europe. As such, they are a significant
underestimate of actual total emissions due to educational travel.
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 3 of 12
the entire world, but certainly the impacts fall most heavily on people who often could not afford an
international flight. Resource exploitation and societal disruptions in host environments may linger
long after students have returned to their home countries. A literature review I completed with two
colleagues situated educational travel within the realm of tourism and discussed how impacts are
likely similar [15]. Educational travel programs often generate air pollution (most notably greenhouse
gas emissions) in traveling to, from, and within their destinations. Once on-site, the programs and
their participants consume local resources, produce waste, and may degrade local environments.
Revenue from the program may or may not benefit the local community, depending on choices made
for lodging, eating, and traveling around the area. Lastly, (larger) groups of students can be
disruptive in local communities, introduce undesirable behaviors, and contribute to the exploitation
of local cultures. The impacts however need not all be negative, as programs can bring important
revenue to remote areas and can encourage conservation and other positive environmental
behaviors. Ultimately, the kind and level of impacts depend upon logistical choices made by program
leaders, individual decisions by students, and policies of the programs and local hosts, among others.
The carbon cost alone may be reason enough for us to question the sustainability of educational
travel programs, regardless of future benefits for their participants. Recent reports speak of the urgent
need to reduce carbon emissions and the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere [23,24]. Using
data from 2018 Open Doors factsheets for regional educational travel to and from the US [25], I
roughly estimated the total carbon dioxide emissions for these (undergraduate) students to be 2.5
million tonnes (Figure 1), which is greater than the carbon dioxide emissions of the lowest emitting
65 countries in 2014 [26] or the equivalent of approximately 150,000 US Americans (see Appendix A
for full calculation methodology). It is important to note that these estimates only account for
educational travel to and from the US and thus do not include programs like Erasmus in Europe. As
such, they are a significant underestimate of actual total emissions due to educational travel.
Figure 1. Estimated carbon emissions by region for students traveling to/from the US on
undergraduate educational travel programs.
One could argue that the pro-environmental educational benefits serve as an offset for
educational travel programs since they likely lead to more sustainable environmental behaviors for
the participants and thus, similar to a purchased offset, might result in lower future emissions.
Purchased carbon offsets generally invest money in activities that prevent emissions or remove
carbon from the atmosphere such as investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, or planting
trees [27]. However, the timing of carbon reductions resulting from some purchased offsets can be
Figure 1.
Estimated carbon emissions by region for students traveling to/from the US on undergraduate
educational travel programs.
One could argue that the pro-environmental educational benefits serve as an oset for educational
travel programs since they likely lead to more sustainable environmental behaviors for the participants
and thus, similar to a purchased oset, might result in lower future emissions. Purchased carbon osets
generally invest money in activities that prevent emissions or remove carbon from the atmosphere
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048 4 of 12
such as investments in renewable energy, energy eciency, or planting trees [
27
]. However, the
timing of carbon reductions resulting from some purchased osets can be problematic in a world
where we need to reduce carbon emissions sooner rather than later. Gössling et al. [
28
] discuss how
dierent assumptions about and approaches to planting trees for carbon sequestration determine
the timeframe for the removal of carbon from the atmosphere, which can mean full compensation
of a flight’s emissions might take decades. Likewise, a student who makes small changes in their
lifestyle after an educational travel program might require years to decades before they have oset
their emissions from said travel. Both of these approaches, albeit well intended, do not result in rapid
enough changes to represent a viable solution for emissions from educational travel programs.
An argument could also be made that, in certain situations, students actually decrease their
carbon footprints on educational travel programs. Studies of the tourism industry have found that
some tourists from areas with high ecological footprints may actually experience a reduction in their
own ecological footprint when traveling to and spending sucient amounts of time in an area with a
lower ecological footprint [
29
31
]. For example, Hunter and Shaw [
29
] discuss that a tourist from the
southern US vacationing in Costa Rica could see a much reduced (ecological) footprint depending on
length of stay. Moreover, as Marzouki et al. [
31
] found comparing ecological footprints of mass tourism
in Tunisia to ecotourism in the Seychelles, this eect depends more on the destination than the type of
tourism (mass vs. eco). Thus, it could follow that educational travel program participants who come
from countries or regions with high carbon footprints (e.g. due to local power grids that run on coal or
oil, high levels of individual car use, poor public transportation etc.) may experience a reduction in their
personal carbon footprints despite long-distance flights to their destination. However, this logic also
applies in reverse: students from low footprint countries who go to study in high footprint countries
like the US would likely see increases in their own carbon footprints. As Figure 1demonstrates, there
are many students who likely fit this bill. Moreover, students’ individual behaviors in the educational
travel destination, as well as their length of stay can aect their net carbon footprints. As Barr et al. [
32
]
point out, the tourist mindset often overrides pro-environmental behaviors that an individual would
employ at home. Thus, it is important for program stato engage students in this issue and have
them reflect on what kind of environmental behaviors make sense away from home. Lastly, a recent
study [
33
] found that educational travel may also encourage visits from family and friends to the
student in the travel destination, which also could be seen as increasing the footprint of the participant
and program. Ultimately, we must assume that educational travel programs have significant carbon
footprints that must be addressed.
It is Not Just Climate Change
Interest in the impacts of educational travel programs beyond those of global climate change
is starting to develop. Schroeder et al. [
14
] interviewed various stakeholders involved in short-term
educational travel programs and found many had not considered negative impacts from the program.
My colleagues and I had similar findings when surveying educational travel program leaders and
faculty about sustainability in their programs: many did not think about sustainability in their own
programs and when they did, they were often limited by institutional or budgetary constraints [
34
].
Lyons et al. [
35
] raised concerns about the potential impacts of gap-year and volunteer programs
specifically on host communities and highlight that research is needed to better understand this aspect
of these programs. Jorgenson [
22
] explored issues associated with the elitism of educational travel and
its perpetration of “colonial” mindsets. Her research further highlights the need for intentional design
and execution of these programs to ensure global citizenship outcomes that are not rooted in a purely
Western way of perceiving the world.
A recent study I completed examined the potential for environmental and social impacts from
educational travel programs on their host destination (specifically in Iceland) [
13
]. The study collected
data from educational travel programs visiting the Westfjords of Iceland and analyzed the sites they
visited within a geographic information system (GIS). Using measures of site ecological sensitivity to
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048 5 of 12
trampling and distance from roads, I found that educational travel programs tend to visit areas that are
moderately sensitive to disruption and somewhat removed from human activity. Further, the study
also developed an index using the frontstage-backstage continuum (sensu Maccannell [
36
]) that measured
a site’s suitability for tourist visits and found that educational travel programs often ventured into
backstage areas (i.e. less suitable for tourism), an incursion that is not considered sustainable [
37
].
Comparing these findings with a similar study on general tourists in the Westfjords [
38
], I found that
educational travel programs tend to go to sites that are more sensitive, both ecologically and socially.
As I discussed in the study, these results make sense as educational travel programs tend to bring
students to sites that provide good insights into local cultures and ecosystems. Nonetheless, this
also means that impacts from educational travel programs are likely not insignificant, particularly
when considering that educational travel generally means sizable groups of students rather than
individual tourists. For me, these results highlighted the need for universities to support program
stato be able to research destinations adequately to understand current local issues and challenges
with respect to sustainability in all its forms (i.e. economic, environmental, and sociocultural). In
higher education, we focus a lot (understandably) on learning outcomes. However, should we not
also examine our other outcomes? Universities often want to be seen as good citizens in their local
communities (the town-gown relationship). Perhaps we should, as I proposed in the study, view host
destinations as an extension of the town-gown relationship? No matter the perspective, we owe it to
the communities that host us and provide important settings for our programs to make sure that we
leave only positive traces.
4. Leveraging Student Learning to Make Educational Travel Sustainable
To deal with the negative impacts from educational travel programs and to reap the maximum
gains from educational travel experiences for students, universities and faculty need to be intentional
about program planning and execution. Designing programs to be more sustainable across the board
in terms of culture, economics, environment, and society represents an important first step. This
is not simply because it parallels many universities’ eorts to green their campuses, but it is also
an important part of the education process for students to have their schools practice what they
preach [
39
,
40
]. Lutterman-Aguilar and Gingerich [
16
] describe ten characteristics of an experiential
educational travel program that include developing a community among students and with the local
community, providing opportunities for critical analysis and reflection, and connecting curriculum
with local problems. Additionally, as discussed earlier, incorporating active learning opportunities
and student research into these programs where possible can also enhance learning outcomes. Service
projects and volunteer work may also be useful experiences, when properly and intenionally planned
and executed [41].
In a previous examination of educational travel programs at my home institution, my co-author
and I examined approaches faculty use to make their program more sustainable [
42
]. For example,
the choice of destination should be explicit and connect with sustainability. Iceland, the setting of my
research and one of my own educational travel destinations, highlights both sustainable practices, such
as Iceland’s use of geothermal and hydrological energy sources, as well as challenges such as tourism
pressures and waste management. The mode of traveling to the destination is also an important choice;
some programs at my university choose to use trains or buses to get to destinations on the European
continent, rather than opt for flights. In the case of Iceland, where a flight is necessary for a short-term
visit (the other option is a ferry that requires several days each direction), we chose a route that involves
only one flight and use trains or buses to get to/from the departure airport. Lastly, lodging, meals,
and activities should be sourced using locally-based providers and ideally ones that are certified for
sustainable practices (e.g. the Nordic Swan ecolabel, Qualmark, EarthCheck).
Creating a 100% sustainable program may not be possible due to lack of faculty and staawareness
or interest, lack of institutional support, or budgetary policies/limitations [
14
,
34
,
42
]. However, these
are excellent opportunities to engage students. For example, institutional budget policies may prevent
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048 6 of 12
faculty from purchasing carbon osets for an educational travel. Instead, the professor could engage
the class in the purchase of carbon osets with personal funds (with opportunities to research and
discuss what carbon osets are, the ethics behind purchasing osets, and the selection of the oset
provider) or have the class develop alternatives (discussed further in next section). A similar type of
engagement is also possible for pre-determined sustainable logistic choices. For example, students
may balk at flying out of a more distant airport that allows direct flights to the destination but requires
a long bus or train ride. Nonetheless the choice is something the class can examine and analyze. A
follow-up assignment could have students redesign an educational travel (even if only hypothetically)
to make it (more) sustainable. In the next section, I share insights from two assignments that I have
used on my own educational travels.
The Footprints We Leave Behind
Educational travel is embedded in the curriculum of my home institution in the form of a semester
course that incorporates at short-term travel experience (10–12 days) in the middle of the semester;
students are required to take several of them to obtain their degrees. These academic travels are one
of the reasons I became interested in the relationship between educational travel and sustainability.
They have also allowed me to accumulate meaningful experience in the field and classroom. One of
the travels I have oered most often has used Iceland as its destination. The class has taken several
dierent forms over the years, but has always been an environmental studies course that looks at issues
of sustainability and environment. Although targeted at students majoring in environmental studies
or sciences, the course is generally open to students in any discipline. Iceland, which as mentioned
above and elsewhere [
42
], presents the students with great examples of sustainable energy use and
the challenges of a rapid increase in tourism combined with limited infrastructure. When I originally
developed the course in 2009, I intentionally decided to showcase sustainability practices in the course
logistics (see above), which I share with and discuss with the students. For the first half of the course,
prior to the actual travel, we typically spend time learning background about the environmental
issues we will experience in situ as well as the Icelandic setting. In the field, students meet with local
stakeholders in various environmental sectors (e.g. scholars, engineers, government ocials, writers,
businesspeople), engage in research projects to examine environmental impacts firsthand, and take
excursions to see relevant sites. Among the assignments I have used are a personal environmental
audit adapted from Savageau [43] and a carbon oset assignment inspired by Dvorak et al. [12].
I adapted the personal audit assignment from a course module developed Savageau [
43
] (NB:
The Savageau article provides a useful framework and examples for adaptations). The assignment
required students to collect data on their personal consumption habits for several days on campus
and during the travel portion of the course. The students then compiled the data and wrote a paper
interpreting their findings and reflecting on what the results said about how and why consumption
patterns may dier when we travel. I often have asked students to use an online footprint calculator
(e.g. http://www.footprintcalculator.org) to supplement their results and place their findings within a
societal context. Generally, the students struggle with the assignment and sometimes complain about
the onus of collecting data on their own practices. Nonetheless, judging from the final project, the
audit seems to have been a successful tool to engage students with environmental issues connected to
lifestyles and travel. As Savageau found with her own students, the project seemed to allow students
to reflect on aspects of their lifestyles they may not have thought about before and helped them identify
ways that they can eect change in their own lives. Table 1presents several quotes from the final
student papers where they were asked to reflect on the societal relevance of the project. To select these
quotes, I examined papers from the course oered in 2015 in groups (based on students’ declared fields
of study/major) and chose the first paper from each group in which the student reflected explicitly on
benefits of the project for her or himself (NB: The course had 24 students).
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048 7 of 12
Table 1. Selected student quotes from the final personal ecological audit report.
Student’s Major Student Reflections
Communications
[B]eing conscious of dierences in the personal energy and water
consumption as well as waste generation behavior while at home and
traveling can help us adjust to the surroundings so that to minimize our
footprint. Such consciousness will help us choose most sustainable travel
options and behaviors that would help us enjoy the new experiences
without harming the environment.
Economics This is the first trip that I have given thought to monitoring my
consumption of goods and energy away from my home.
Environmental studies [The audit] makes me realize that I am responsible both as a tourist and a
university student to try to minimize my ecological eects.
Management
[The audit] has led to numerous changes in my daily behavior, changes that
aim to decrease my ecological footprint: I’m now vegetarian, I don’t flush
every single time I use the toilet, I shower quicker, and I make sure to only
turn on the lights when I need them.
The second assignment I have started using is one involving carbon osets (I have only used it
once thus far). I have bought carbon osets for this course since the first year I oered it to demonstrate
to students that we should not simply fly and either ignore our emissions or choose to write oour
carbon emissions to educational benefits. Nonetheless, this “simplistic” solution always has always
bothered me. Upon reading Dvorak et al.’s [
12
] own struggles with the approach of buying osets and
the solution of some of their students to create their own osets, I decided to create an assignment
where students not only calculate our program’s carbon footprint (and their part of it), but also where
they analyze their lifestyles and propose changes in their daily lives that would oset an equivalent
amount of greenhouse gases; these osets were to complement the third-party osets I typically buy.
The learning outcome ended up being greater for me than the students, as I discovered that many
students did not realize what activities in their own lives generate greenhouse gas emissions (side
note: about half of the students did not have any previous environmental science coursework). Some
students proposed changes in their lives that did not connect directly with reducing greenhouse gas
emissions (e.g. flushing the toilet less frequently, recycling their plastic bottles, or eating organic food).
Thus, it was obvious, these students were unable to understand the dierence between behaviors
that have environmental benefits and those that specifically target greenhouse gas emissions. In the
end, I decided to backtrack and allow more time to discuss greenhouse gases with the class, so they
could better understand the general concept of osets. I look forward to the next chance to oer this
assignment in an upcoming semester.
In regard to the success of the entire course/travel experience, I have generally received positive
feedback that supports the research on student learning outcomes from educational travel, be it formal
feedback on the course in student reflective essays and end-of-semester course evaluations, or informal
feedback that I get from students in the semesters and years since they have taken the course. In
Table 2, I provide comments from a formal reflective essay that students completed at the end of the
course in 2014 (NB: As above, this course had 24 students). I selected quotes that represented the
range of comments across dierent majors and dierent impressions. The experience seemed to have
been transformational for many, both environmental studies majors and others. Students reported
wanting to change their consumption and traveling habits beyond this course. Some reported being
made uncomfortable by some experiences (e.g. the “overcrowding” at tourist sites mentioned in the
economics student in Table 2) but recognized the value in that discomfort. Several also connected
their experiences from travel with their home contexts. It is important to note that this was a graded
assignment and as such students may have been unwilling to critique their experiences.
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048 8 of 12
Table 2. Selected exemplary comments from students’ reflective papers on the course.
Student’s major Student comments
Environmental studies
I think I will forever more be more mindful of where I am stepping, on or o
trail.
International Relations
I had never traveled with a focus on sustainability like we did on this
particular [course] so the experience was very eye opening . . . I will
definitely implement more sustainable travel into my future plans.
Management
My experience of traveling sustainably has immensely shifted the way in
which I would go about traveling in the future
. . .
The [course] certainly did
change my perception of eco-tourism and is something I will enforce on my
future travels too.
Environmental studies
This [course] has helped me change my perception of what it means to be a
sustainable traveler . . . I understand now that not only the physical
environment needs to be looked at but also the economic and socio-cultural
environment aspects.
Economics
While I didn’t enjoy this time seeing the large crowds and their side-eects
on the environment and culture, these visits complemented our discussions
well and brought together the theme of our course and enriched my
understanding of environmental issues.
International Relations Being in Iceland raised my awareness on environmental issues not only in
Iceland, but especially in my own country.
5. Concluding Thoughts
Educational travel in its many varied forms oers powerful learning opportunities for students.
Nonetheless, these opportunities can come with a price that we often (hopefully unintentionally)
have pushed oonto host communities and regions. In the discussion of a recent study [
13
] on the
impacts of educational travel programs, I laid out several approaches to improve the implementation
of sustainable educational travel in higher education. I synthesize those approaches here with the
ideas presented above as a roadmap for institutions, programs, and sta(summarized in Figure 2).
First, the proper foundation for sustainable programs must be laid by the institutions (i.e.
universities and third-party providers), which need to provide support and encouragement
from the highest levels. The goal should strive for sustainability across the board—economic,
environmental, and socio-cultural and the lowest possible impacts on host destinations and the
global environment. Perhaps most importantly, the institutions need to embed sustainable goals in
their missions and modes of operation. They should also revise budgeting procedures and policies
to permit sustainable logistics and travel, even when they cost more. If this increases program
costs, then scholarships or other forms of financial aid should be made available to participants so
that educational travel remains open to individuals across the socioeconomic spectrum.
Second, institutions need to ensure that program faculty and stahave the appropriate background,
training, and professional development opportunities. Program staneed to possess an adequate
level of sustainable literacy, know how to incorporate sustainable principles into program logistics
and curricula, and be familiar with their destinations and the issues and challenges the destinations
face. Program staalso need to develop good relationships with host communities that will
support educational objectives for sustainability. As Lutterman-Aguilar and Gingerich [
16
] wrote:
“[faculty] have a responsibility to work collaboratively with the local community to ensure that their
relationships are built on mutuality and reciprocity and not on any kind of exploitation (70).”
Third, institutions and program staneed to be deliberate in their design and development of
new programs, as well as the redesign of existing ones. This includes choosing (or revising)
destinations that oer a suitable setting for a sustainable program and designing the program to
avoid regions and seasons that may not allow for the execution of a sustainable program. This also
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048 9 of 12
means developing a focus that lends itself to education about (aspects of) sustainability, regardless
of the discipline.
Fourth, programs need to adapt pedagogical approaches that are eective at teaching students
not just about the topic at hand, but also the host destination (culture and environment) and what
it means to be a sustainable global citizen. Multiple frameworks already exist that educators can
draw upon: experiential education [
16
], Leave No Trace [
44
], transformative learning theory [
21
],
and Value-Belief-Norm theory [
18
], to name a few. Incorporating active learning and high
impact educational approaches, such as student research experiences, will further support the
learning gains.
Fifth, it goes almost without saying that programs need to be designed with logistics that strive
for sustainability. In a world where the impacts of unmitigated climate change will likely be
catastrophic, the inevitable greenhouse gas emissions from travel must be limited through the
choices of climate-friendly modes of travel and behaviors. Further, food and lodging in the
programs should also reflect sustainable principles that benefit local economies, societies, and
environments. The same should apply to a program’s activities (e.g. field trips, cultural events, etc.)
Lastly, programs will inevitably generate some negative impacts and programs should strive
to oset those impacts as much as possible, ideally engaging the students in the process. With
respect to greenhouse gas emissions, a program might buy carbon osets, develops its own
osets, find other ways to make the educational experience worth the carbon cost, or combine all
three approaches. Well-planned service projects, volunteer work, and applied research, when
done in tandem with reputable organizations in the host community, can also provide important
benefits for the community. Additionally, as Garc
í
a and Longo [
41
] describe, “[w]hen done well
. . .
service-learning can be a tool for higher education programs to educate the next generation of engaged
citizens (119).”
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 12
Fifth, it goes almost without saying that programs need to be designed with logistics that strive
for sustainability. In a world where the impacts of unmitigated climate change will likely be
catastrophic, the inevitable greenhouse gas emissions from travel must be limited through the
choices of climate-friendly modes of travel and behaviors. Further, food and lodging in the
programs should also reflect sustainable principles that benefit local economies, societies, and
environments. The same should apply to a program’s activities (e.g. field trips, cultural events,
etc.)
Lastly, programs will inevitably generate some negative impacts and programs should strive to
offset those impacts as much as possible, ideally engaging the students in the process. With
respect to greenhouse gas emissions, a program might buy carbon offsets, develops its own
offsets, find other ways to make the educational experience worth the carbon cost, or combine
all three approaches. Well-planned service projects, volunteer work, and applied research, when
done in tandem with reputable organizations in the host community, can also provide important
benefits for the community. Additionally, as García and Longo [41] describe, “[w]hen done well…
service-learning can be a tool for higher education programs to educate the next generation of engaged
citizens (119).”
Figure 2. Overview of necessary elements for more sustainable educational travel programs.
Ultimately, educational travel is needed in today’s world. Experiencing other cultures, lifestyles, and
environments helps to create global citizens that will be important members of tomorrow’s society.
However, we need to make sure we see the forest for the trees and make educational travel
sustainable for all who play a role in making it happen.
Funding: This research was funded in part by the Swiss National Science Foundation (IZK0Z2_171645) and by
Franklin University Switzerland’s Faculty Development Funds.
Acknowledgments: The author graciously thanks Q. Duroy for the invitation to contribute to this issue; his
previous collaborators, A. Vogelaar and J. Long, for their encouragement; P. Weiss and his colleagues in the
Westfjords for their support during the field research cited herein; L. Mundy-Shaw for his able research
assistance; and A. Gardiner and S. Steinert-Borella for their comments on previous draft. Any remaining errors
are my own.
Conflicts of Interest: The author is an educational travel leader in addition to an educational travel researcher
and declares no further conflicts of interest.
Appendix A
I estimated the carbon dioxide emissions from educational travel by using the number of
international undergraduates in the US and the number of US students studying abroad from the
Open Doors regional factsheets for 2018 [25]. I used Chicago as the US city of departure/arrival due
Figure 2. Overview of necessary elements for more sustainable educational travel programs.
Ultimately, educational travel is needed in today’s world. Experiencing other cultures, lifestyles,
and environments helps to create global citizens that will be important members of tomorrow’s society.
However, we need to make sure we see the forest for the trees and make educational travel sustainable
for all who play a role in making it happen.
Funding:
This research was funded in part by the Swiss National Science Foundation (IZK0Z2_171645) and by
Franklin University Switzerland’s Faculty Development Funds.
Acknowledgments:
The author graciously thanks Q. Duroy for the invitation to contribute to this issue; his
previous collaborators, A. Vogelaar and J. Long, for their encouragement; P. Weiss and his colleagues in the
Sustainability 2019,11, 3048 10 of 12
Westfjords for their support during the field research cited herein; L. Mundy-Shaw for his able research assistance;
and A. Gardiner and S. Steinert-Borella for their comments on previous draft. Any remaining errors are my own.
Conflicts of Interest:
The author is an educational travel leader in addition to an educational travel researcher
and declares no further conflicts of interest.
Appendix A
I estimated the carbon dioxide emissions from educational travel by using the number of
international undergraduates in the US and the number of US students studying abroad from the Open
Doors regional factsheets for 2018 [
25
]. I used Chicago as the US city of departure/arrival due to its
central location in the US and selected a major city in each region (Table A1). For each region, I chose a
departure city for inbound students based on the country that sends the greatest number of students
(NB: for Europe, since the UK, Germany, and Turkey send similar numbers of students, I chose Berlin as
a middle point). For outbound students, I chose a major city in the most common destination country
(NB: for Europe, since the UK, France, and Italy receive similar numbers of US students, I chose Paris
as a middle point). I estimated the emissions per student as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in
one roundtrip between Chicago and the region’s selected city using myclimate’s [
45
] online calculator.
Not surprisingly, students coming from/going to Oceania have the highest individual footprints, as
Oceania is the furthest from the US.
As Figure 1shows, the estimate for the total emissions from 2018 is approximately 2.5 million
tonnes of CO
2
. The largest contributor for inbound students to the US (and overall) is Asia, while
the largest contributor for outbound US students are programs to Europe. Due to much smaller
numbers of participants, the footprint of programs to and from Oceania are low, despite the large
individual emissions.
Table A1.
Assumed departure/arrival destinations for 2018 educational travel participants and the
relate carbon dioxide emissions of one-roundtrip to/from Chicago.
Region Inbound Outbound
Departure tonnes CO2Arrival tonnes CO2
Asia Beijing 4.1 Beijing 4.1
Europe Berlin 2.6 Paris 2.5
Latin America Rio de Janeiro 3.2 San Jose 1.4
Mid. East/N. Africa
Riyadh 4.4 Tel Aviv 3.8
Oceania Melbourne 6.4 Melbourne 6.4
Sub-Saharan Africa
Lagos 3.7 Johannesburg 5.7
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Purpose The purpose of this study is to investigate the potential for environmental and social impacts from university-level educational travel programs. Design/methodology/approach This study analyzes the sites visited by 17 education travel programs to the Westfjords (Iceland) from 2014 to 2016. It uses a geographic information system (GIS) project to examine the potential for environmental and social impacts from these programs on local communities and environments. It compares them with similar data on general tourism to the region. Findings The results reveal that educational travel programs visit sites that are generally in moderately sensitive areas environmentally and socially. They visit different sites from general tourists and sites that are more sensitive environmentally and socially. Research limitations/implications The research area was limited to the Westfjords of Iceland, and thus, the results may not apply globally to all educational travel destinations. Practical implications These findings suggest that education travel programs carried out by and for universities the potential to have negative effects on the locations they visit. Universities need to design their educational travel programs so as to limit such impacts to host environments and communities and explicitly educate student participants about sustainable travel behaviors. Originality/value This is the first study to combine GIS with several environmental and social metrics to assess impacts from educational travel programs. Further, it is the first study to map the frontstage–backstage continuum as a quantitative metric.
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