The Environmental Impact of International Students

With more than 25 years of experience in economic development, cross-cultural communications, international education and social innovation spanning 60 countries, Ailsa Lamont has kindly agreed to sit down with us and tell us more about the environmental impact that international students can have around the world.

Climate change: the ‘not my problem’ problem

The science is clear. How people live, how they get around and what they buy is making carbon emissions rise to record levels. Time is running out to avert catastrophic global warming. Sure, the politics and economics of switching to new energy sources are complicated but the technical solutions exist, so just why is it so hard to get people to take action against climate change?

Basically, it’s the ‘not my problem’ problem, or to use psychologists’ term, the passive bystander effect. People wait for somebody else to take action and exaggerate their own ignorance so they don’t have to confront unpleasant realities or make changes to their own lifestyle. The delayed lead time for the worst consequences of climate change makes them even easier to ignore.

Are millennials really greener than their parents’ generation?

Yes! Your generation is more focused on the environment than your parents by a whopping 76% to 24%, according to a poll by the Clinton Global University Initiative and Microsoft. 66% of young people accept the reality of climate change, and 75% believe human activity is responsible for it. Yet this increased environmental awareness has not translated fully into action. You recycle less than the Baby Boomers, use more disposable plastic and still forget to turn off the lights.

Lots of you do care and want to look after the long-term welfare of the planet, but to help bring more people on board, maybe it’s time to focus on the practical, even self-interested benefits you can get from taking a more eco-friendly approach.

Helping the environment can help you get a job!

Two of the biggest challenges, when you study in a new country, are making friends, and getting a good job once you graduate. These two points are related because employers want people who can communicate well and understand the local culture. It may be tempting to stick with your own nationality or language group when you arrive, but the students who do best long-term are those who take the leap right from the start and actively become part of the local community.

The best learning comes from action, and working on real-life problems. Employers look for people who can be creative and initiate change, so anything you can do to practise and develop these skills will boost your career prospects or help prepare you to become an entrepreneur yourself in future. What better way to combine making friends and practise innovating than by coming up with ideas to cut your carbon and help protect the environment at the same time?

Going green is the way of the future. Even big businesses are starting to get on board, with huge global companies like IKEA, Mars and even Global Motors going green(er) and investing in renewable energy projects.

Look for local events and student groups that are working to tackle climate change and get involved. They might be sustainability groups or meetups, community gardens or environmental workshops run by your university or local council. Your uni might offer elective courses where you can work on a practical project, or workshops and hackathons where you build your network while you learn. Working on eco-projects might even get you credit towards your course, or be counted towards your university’s leadership program.

Saving the planet – how can you help?

There are lots of simple and cost-free ways to lower your carbon emissions. Take your bike or walk instead of driving sometimes, unplug your appliances when not in use and think about what you buy and how you recycle. You can find more easy tips here, which will also save you money and make you healthier!

You can measure your own carbon footprint too to see how much difference your own actions can make. Take small actions at first to make them stick, and feel the pleasure of making a positive impact. You will have the personal satisfaction of having helped make the air cleaner, a back yard or balcony greener, have fresher food and save on power bills.

Social Media – a positive force?

Great inventions and ideas spin around the globe faster than ever before thanks to social media. The Seabin Project from Australia is a great example – two surfers invented an automated bin that catches floating oil and rubbish in the ocean and they found international business partners thanks to their video being shared on Facebook and raised their investment on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site.

Environmental activism now relies heavily on social media – calls to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline in the USA spread like wildfire on Twitter and Facebook and helped put a global spotlight on the issue. There is another way in which the online world helps the environment – getting your information online is much more eco-friendly than having to cut down trees for brochures!

Where can you study climate change?

Some university courses now focus on global warming, particularly environmental and marine science degrees, and some universities have climate change research centres. Tackling climate change is so complex that it will need people skilled in most disciplines, including social sciences, engineering, education and even business.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a great way of learning more, for example, Coursera has a ‘From Climate Change to Action’ course you can study free online. If you are looking for something specifically for international high school students, Stanford University in California runs an International Student Carbon Footprint Challenge, and Pomegranate Global in Australia is developing intensive Carbon Footprint Think Labs for university students.

After 25 years working in cross-cultural communications and international education, Ailsa Lamont set up Pomegranate Global in 2016 to help people access improved education, training and career opportunities globally. Read more about Pomegranate Global and see how Ailsa helps people reach their potential, every day.