Guiding Future Students in Sustainability Abroad

Hi everyone, 

Thanks for tuning in for my last blog post! Although I’ve been at home for the past month instead of in Copenhagen, I have been continuing with my abroad courses online, including Danish (which has definitely been much less useful outside of Denmark). It has been an adjustment being back at home and living through this unprecedented pandemic. I wanted to write this last post as an update about how I’m using what I’ve learned abroad to help further influence my choices and educate the Amherst community. 

I learned so much while abroad, as I touched on in my last entry, not just about Copenhagen and alternative transportation, but also about what it’s like to live independently and to do so while trying to uphold sustainable habits. I wanted to share these lessons with students, specifically Amherst students, who are thinking about and planning to go abroad, and hopefully impart some wisdom that others can use in their international experiences. So, I teamed up with Margaret Werner, who studied this past fall in Paris, to create a guide focusing on how to live sustainably while abroad. In this guide, we cover a wide range of topics from traveling, to eating, to shopping, giving our personal advice and first-hand knowledge about what it’s really like to be an environmentally-conscious student while abroad.

Green text on a background with leaves and globes
The cover of our sustainability while abroad guide!

We also sent out a survey to other Amherst students who have studied abroad recently, asking for their advice and their experiences. Margaret and I wanted to create a product that was really comprehensive and thorough, so we asked for input from students who visited other cities and countries. It was really interesting to learn about different countries’ dedication (or lack thereof) to sustainability efforts and climate action. We used their comments about their experiences with sustainability abroad to help model our guide, so it was really helpful to have their feedback to work with. The guide will be finalized over the next few weeks and will be available on the OES website. I hope it will be useful to current and future students, and interesting to everyone else!

The sun sets behind a mountain with snow in the foreground
A beautiful sunset from Greenland; an incredible trip, but the flight contributed to a disproportionate amount of my carbon footprint for the semester.

One intriguing part of the guide that we decided to include is the Carbon Footprint Calculator, which allows you to figure out the impact of your lifestyle on the planet. It is a really eye-opening exercise because it forces you to examine the effects of your everyday habits and the calculator makes emissions, which are usually invisible consequences of our actions, much more tangible. I did this exercise according to my living habits abroad, and the results were surprising. Secondary actions, including food, drink, education, hotels, etc., was the category where most of my emissions were coming from, largely due to the high cost of education and the fact that traveling caused me to spend more on hotels than usual. The next highest category was flights, which was not as surprising given how much carbon is emitted from air travel. My flight to and from Copenhagen had the most impact since it was the longest, but all of the three roundtrip flights (US to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Greenland, and Copenhagen to Helsinki) I took during abroad added up. What was surprising in more of a positive light was how little carbon is emitted from both long distance train rides and the metro. Even though some of my train rides were upwards of five hours, the combined total emissions from all of my bus and rail trips while abroad amount to ~1% of the emissions from just six flights. 

It was also really interesting to compare my lifestyle at Amherst and abroad. I definitely traveled and ate at restaurants a lot more while abroad which negatively affected my carbon footprint, but at Amherst I spend more on education and use more energy. At different stages of life we find ourselves falling into different routines, which of course have different impacts on our emissions. It’s worth being conscious of how we are both helping and hurting the environment in order to help us make appropriate changes. 

While many people are stuck in the belief that individual actions don’t really matter when trying to solve the issues of climate change, completing a carbon calculator proves that the choices we make everyday do have an impact on the environment. When I actively chose to walk or bike rather than drive to class, when I chose to take the train instead of flying, when I chose to buy local produce, all of these decisions played a part in reducing my carbon footprint substantially. I encourage everyone to fill out the carbon footprint calculator according to your own lifestyle, to see where your habits are impacting the planet more than you would have originally thought. See how you can make a big difference from just a few small changes. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about alternative transportation in Copenhagen and reading about my experiences with sustainability abroad. Thanks for sticking with me through this unusual semester! 

Stay safe and healthy everyone,

Rebecca 

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