Taking part in an abroad experience is an opportunity to gain the skills, knowledge, and intercultural understanding necessary to build a more sustainable future, but it can also have significant environmental, economic, and social impacts along the way. In alignment with our Commitment to Sustainability and the UW-Madison’s Resilience Commitment, all students are encouraged to use a sustainability lens to make decisions throughout their study abroad process, and practice sustainable living before, during, and after their time abroad.
The Carbon Footprint of Going Abroad
The carbon footprint, or total greenhouse gas emissions, of an abroad experience is made up of flights to and from the program location; daily activities using electricity for appliances, lighting, and air conditioning; on-site transportation; food consumption; and disposing of waste.
Flying, in particular, emits large amounts of greenhouse gases.
2018-2019 Approximate Carbon Footprint of Flights To and From UW-Madison Study Abroad Programs
- 2,592 Students
- 25,512,114 Passenger Air Miles Traveled
- 11,208.91 Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (MTCDE) Produced
- ~4.3 Metric Tons – Average Student’s Carbon Footprint Due to Air Travel
UW-Madison’s carbon footprint of study abroad in 2018-2019 due to air travel to and from the program location was equivalent to:
- 2,036 homes’ electricity use for one year
- 148 tanker trucks’ worth of gasoline
The average study abroad student’s carbon footprint due to air travel to and from their program location was equivalent to:
- Charging 490,512 smartphones
- Burning 454 gallons of gasoline
- Burning 4,457 pints of coal
- Providing a home’s electricity for 267 days
To sequester, or recapture, the carbon emissions from an average UW-Madison student’s abroad experience, 71.1 tree seedlings would have to be planted and grow for 10 years!
What Can You Do?
Adopt Sustainable Travel Practices
There are many things you can do to study abroad more sustainably.