Happy Earth Month! There’s no better way to honor Earth Month by bringing back the podcast with a topic that the gap year industry cares deeply about: sustainability and especially thinking about our impact as travelers in the era of climate change.

As we navigate the era of climate change, it’s become increasingly crucial for us to consider the impact of our travel on the environment. With this in mind, let’s delve into the world of sustainable travel and explore why it matters now more than ever before. Our guests Daniel Ponce-Taylor and Arantxa López Martínez are both world travelers, program directors and sustainability experts. This is a great episode to jump start your sustainable gap year thinking!

Guest Bios:

Daniel Ponce-Taylor is the Sustainability & Strategic Partnerships Director at Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI). Daniel received his MSc in Sustainable Management of Coastal and Marine Ecosystems from the University of Cadiz. For over 15 years, Daniel has been developing and managing overseas operations in more than 15 countries, tackling key local and global conservation and development focuses and objectives.  Recently his work has been focusing on increasing the impact and contribution that these partnerships have on the Agenda 2030 and UN Sustainable Development Goals, whilst developing strategies to go beyond sustainability and move towards regenerative practices. Daniel has been co-chairing the Sustainability SIG for the past 4 years, and was part of the team who drafted the Forum on Education Abroad Guidelines on Advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals through Education Abroad. Daniel is also a member of the CANIE Europe chapter leadership team and is a regular speaker and presenter at conferences and provides coaching and training on sustainability and climate action strategy and implementation plans.

Arantxa López Martínez is a co-founder of ID Languages and the program director of Spanish Gap Year. Hailing from Vitoria-Gasteiz, where she grew up bilingual (Spanish/Basque) and developed a love for languages, she has lived in Ireland for ten years and travelled all around Europe and the American continent. Arantxa holds a BA in Education and an MA in Language acquisition in multilingual settings, as well as Diplomas in TEFL, SFL, CLIL & Bilingualism.

She is also one of the founding members of Green Education Ireland, a collaborative platform created to promote sustainable education in Bundoran, Co. Donegal (home to her language school in Ireland). Arantxa is a long-time volunteer with different organisations that foster sustainability through climate action, equal opportunities and quality education, and the experiential learning programs she leads in Spain and Ireland are aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Defining key concepts:

First things first, let’s define sustainability. Simply put, sustainability refers to the ability to meet our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In other words, it’s all about finding a balance between social, economic, and environmental factors, so that we can live in harmony with the planet and each other.

Now, you may have heard of regenerative travel, a term that’s gaining popularity in the sustainable travel sphere. Regenerative travel goes beyond merely minimizing our impact on the environment, it focuses on actively restoring and regenerating ecosystems and communities. It’s about leaving a positive impact on the places we visit, rather than just leaving them as we found them.

But how do we achieve this? One way is through a process called insetting. Insetting is a form of carbon offsetting, but with a twist. Instead of simply investing in projects that reduce carbon emissions elsewhere, insetting involves investing in local projects that directly benefit the communities we visit. This creates a positive feedback loop, where the benefits of our travel are felt both locally and globally.

However, it’s essential to be aware of green washing, a term used to describe companies or individuals who make misleading claims about their environmental practices. It’s easy to get caught up in marketing speak and feel like we’re making a difference, when in reality, we’re not. So, it’s important to do our research and support companies that are transparent about their sustainability efforts.

And finally, we come to carbon offsetting, which is a way to compensate for the carbon emissions produced by our travel. This can be achieved through investing in renewable energy projects or supporting reforestation initiatives. While carbon offsetting is not a silver bullet solution to climate change, it’s a crucial step in reducing our impact on the planet.

Sustainable Gap Year Tips:

  • Learn about the UN Sustainability Goals and look for opportunities to contribute to them on your gap year. For a structured framework, consider participating in the Gap Year Association’s Student of Leadership and Humanity Award certificate.
  • Seek out sustainable forms of accommodation and transport: homestay, eco-friendly hostels, trains, cycling, boats, van life.
  • Carbon off-setting at home and in the communities they visit. Consider opting into carbon offsetting for your flights. Reduce the number of flights your take on your gap year by planning thoughtfully.
  • Making a responsible use of resources:
    • Being mindful of your use of energy and water.
    • Buying locally grown food in the neighborhood’s market/locally made products in smaller businesses.
    • If they need to buy clothes, check out the second hand shops / consider a clothes swap with a friend.
  • Really learning about the country you are travelling to: researching about it beforehand, following the news before and during their travels, finding a few local sustainability-minded social media accounts to follow, speaking to the local people and host families about how they see their government, country’s biggest companies and other employers implement the SDGs in their community, are there any emergency situations etc.
    • Getting involved/volunteering in local projects that work with a focus in sustainability: whether it is related to education, gender equality, life on land/the sea… something that is meaningful for them.
    • Consider participating in a language exchange: that way, they can discuss sustainability with people of all different ages and backgrounds, while they learn the language and local culture.
    • Journaling: writing about the different aspects of sustainability they observe and experience around them, so they can bring their learnings home.
    • Continue to live more sustainably, grow their SDG minded network and hopefully have an impact in their own communities (in college, during internships, at work etc).