Sustainability matters at home and abroad. Explore these sustainability tips for your life as a Gopher. Additionally, while preparing to go abroad, think about how these ideas can be translated to your time in your host country.
Sustainability and Environmental Consciousness
When planning to go abroad, you are encouraged to include sustainability and environmental issues in your host country as part of your research. Understanding the issues must be looked at through an environmental justice and intersectional environmentalism lens. These concepts define how the interaction between humans, environment, power, and structure define policy and action. Definitions of these terms, and articles for further context are provided below.
Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
An additional definition is the intersection of both social justice and environmentalism, where the inequity in environmental degradation is also considered.
Intersectional Environmentalism is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people and the planet. ~LeahThomas
More on environmental justice and intersectional environmentalism:
- Intersectional Environmentalist Pledge
When packing for your program abroad, we encourage you to use a sustainable lens by looking for products that reduce packaging and waste. Some cities and countries have banned plastic bags, straws, and bottles. Recycling and waste facilities may not be as accessible as they are in the US. You likely have many of the items listed below already and should consider packing those before buying new items. You may find that not all of the items listed are relevant to your destination. However, if you are in need of or are planning to purchase new items, a variety of sustainable travel stores and ethical companies are available to purchase from.
Your packing and purchasing choices will have an impact on your host community and environment. For example, sunscreens and other products that are not reef/eco friendly can be damaging to coral reefs and ecosystems.
- Reusable water bottles
- Reusable shopping bags/tote bags (plastic bags may not be provided by stores)
- Reusable straws
- Silicon “to-go” containers and sandwich bags
- Bamboo utensils
- Mesh fruit/veggie bag
- Spork/bottle opener
Health and Hygiene:
- Bar shampoo/conditioner
- Bar soap
- Bamboo toothbrush
- Toothpaste tabs
- Menstrual cups
- Deodorant bars
- Reef-safe/eco-friendly sunscreen and other products
- Laundry tabs/sheets
- Solar charger
- Essential oils & reusable spray bottle
Minimizing Waste and Resource Use
We strongly encourage students to be aware of their waste and resource use here on campus, at home, and abroad. The UofM Office of Sustainability offers many practical suggestions for living sustainably, including:
- Unplug devices when not in use and hit the lights every time you leave a room
- Conserve water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth and limiting shower length
- Take the stairs
- Think twice before printing
- Turn heat or air conditioning systems down or off when you're away
- Use reusable food and beverage containers
- Think twice before you throw something away - Can it be fixed, reused, or upcycled?
- Shop local and support community farming
In addition to the tips listed above, there are a variety of practices you can use to study and travel abroad sustainably.
- Pack light (this helps airlines cut down on fuel usage and reduces your carbon footprint on flights)
- Minimize onboard airplane waste
- Bring your own headphones
- Refill a personal water bottle
- Reuse plastic cups
- Use a personal neck pillow instead of the plastic-wrapped airline pillows
- Use electronic boarding passes and e-tickets for flights/attractions if possible
- Download and use map apps (many are accessible without data coverage)
- Avoid plastic packaging at grocery stores/markets
- Compost when possible
- Be mindful of water use for showers
- Do not leave items behind in your host country, unless an established recycling or donation system is in place
When looking into transportation options, in addition to safety and cost, consider the environmental impact of your mode of travel. The following list ranks transportation options from lowest to highest environmental impact:
- Check the fuel efficiency of the airline you fly; direct flights in coach or economy are often the most efficient
- Offset your air travel emissions by considering credible carbon offset programs
- Lower your window shade to keep the interior of the plane cool
When considering independent travel, think about:
- Selecting accommodation and transport providers that demonstrate efficient and sustainable management of energy, waste, and water.
- Opting for a travel service provider who is a local (or long-term resident) of the country and/or one who puts profits back into the country.
Dietary Needs and Choices
Just as it is at home, it is important to understand where our food comes from while abroad, as well as ensure we are eating safely and sustainably. It is important to remember that food is an integral part of culture and therefore, the local food culture could be the most sustainable. This may make dietary preferences or allergies more complicated to accommodate and less sustainable in your host country. With this in mind, below are some tips for supporting your dietary needs, understanding dietary choices as a privilege, and supporting sustainable consumption in your host country.
- Research host country food culture
- Understand food/water safety issues in your host country
- Be open-minded and try new local foods
- If sustainable and culturally appropriate in your host location, try out meatless meals
- Eat fresh and eat local foods; limit consumption of imported foods (This can be a money saver too.)
- Recognize that food systems vary from country to country, so what you might consider sustainable at home might not be in this local context of your host country
- Understand any food allergies/sensitivities or dietary restrictions (religious, cultural, etc.) you may have and what this might mean for you and food access in your host country
- Understand the difference between allergies/dietary restrictions and the privilege of dietary choices. Some dietary choice questions to think about:
- Are your dietary choices sustainable in your host location?
- Are you able to eat foods you might not eat at home but are local to your host culture?
- Are there sustainable options in your host country that still support your dietary choice?
*It is your responsibility to communicate any food allergies/sensitivities or dietary restrictions on your health information form, as well as with your onsite staff and or host family (as applicable). Ask your program team about realities in your host country/desired host country related to food allergies or dietary restrictions.
Packing is an important part of the travel process. However, you might not have considered how some items you bring with you could be hazardous for the ecosystem or economy. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, invasive species cost the United States more than $120 billion in damages every year! These damages span the range of agricultural losses, irreversible damage to treasured ecosystems, and can even pose a public health concern. Many of these pests are brought into the country through food, handicrafts, or even the soil on your shoes.
The Don’t Pack a Pest program can provide you with some helpful steps to aid you in preventing the spread of invasive species. It is important to declare any natural, plant, or animal products that you might have with you. When you declare that you have an item, you are letting a US Customs and Border officer know that you are carrying a product that might require inspection. You will have the opportunity to make a declaration when you are completing your re-entry paperwork.
Many people are afraid that making a declaration will result in fines, arrests, or being detained. While that can happen in cases, especially in cases of poaching, it is pretty unlikely that you’ll experience that. More often than not, if there is a viable concern, a US Customs and Border officer may clean your shoes to remove any potential hazardous soil or might confiscate an item that could pose a threat. In many cases, however, you’ll find that they will just inspect your items and then send you on your way. The process is very quick and easy.
When in doubt remember these 3 important packing tips:
- Don’t pack fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy, or meats.
- Always declare all food, seeds, plants, wood, natural medicinal products, and agricultural items.
- If you have been around animals, such as on farms, in local markets, or while conducting field research, let a Customs and Border officer know.
Social Interactions (Preservation, Culture, Photos)
- Consider when posting photos and the language used when discussing them.
More on ethicial considerations of taking and posting photos:
- Have respect for sacred spaces, places, events, and ceremonies
- Think about the impact of your presence on the host community and mitigate it where you can
- When possible, support local businesses and systems, rather than larger corporate entities