An Abroad Student’s Sustainability Efforts with ISI Florence

By Megan Bidgood, Connecticut College | ISI Florence Spring 2024

As part of ISI Florence Sustainability Initiative, students are encouraged to promote and practice sustainability while living in the Florence community. Additionally, the initiative aims to share awareness of ways students can further their sustainability efforts while traveling throughout the semester. By participating in the initiative and becoming a Sustainability Representative, you learn ways to contribute to the greater community you now reside in and also positively impact the global environmental movement. I joined the Sustainability Initiative because I wanted to broaden my knowledge of all aspects of sustainability on a global scale. I have previously been involved in environmentalism efforts in my hometown of Melrose, Massachusetts, and also my home college of Connecticut College, so I wanted to expand my involvement to my semester abroad as well. I feel passionate about protecting and preserving our natural habitat and find great joy in connecting with nature as a whole. Therefore, an initiative that explored ways to counteract the negative human impact on our natural environment in a place where I was moving temporarily felt important to participate in. As an abroad student in Florence, I wanted to be aware of the footprint I was creating and be mindful when traveling throughout Europe. Having the opportunity to travel from country to country and within Italy is amazing, but as global citizens, we all have the responsibility of never leaving a place visited in worse condition than when arriving.

The initiative consists of different group-based and individual tasks aimed at connecting students with one another and then encouraging each of us to engage with our newfound knowledge in our daily lives. The group-based events are offered through various workshops throughout the course of the semester. This semester there are three workshops. The first workshop, held soon after we all arrived abroad was titled “Environmental Sustainability: A Commitment to the Future,” and focused on initially sparking the conversation among us students and ISI staff regarding why we all chose to participate in this initiative and learning from each other, or ways we want to promote sustainability. We talked about what each of us has done in the past to “go green” and wrote ten independent goals to work towards this semester. It was a great workshop to meet like-minded peers who actively sought out the same positive change in the world. I was able to learn a lot from my fellow students, and the ISI staff member who led the workshop, Christina Infantino, Coordinator for Student Services, who founded this initiative within ISI Florence. Together, we formed a solid coalition that bonded over a shared passion to reduce our carbon footprint and find ways to be more environmentally conscious while abroad. 

The second workshop was led by Prof. Brownlees, who teaches Fashion and Communication classes at ISI Florence. The focus of this workshop was Sustainable Fashion, and the aim was to teach students about the impact of the fashion industry and how their personal choices make a difference. I really enjoyed the discussion that occurred during this workshop with the students and professors as we all expressed times in the past when we caved to the trendiness of fast fashion and what we have improved to be more mindful in our shopping purchases. I am an enthusiast for second-hand and thrift shopping so learning more about ways to reuse and recycle clothes in the most sustainable way was very interesting. Furthermore, we talked about how a way that people in Italy conserve energy is through not using tumble dryers. While this has been an adjustment for myself and for many American study abroad students, it teaches us an important lesson and is something I have grown to appreciate. When I go home, I am going to make an effort to dry my clothes on the drying racks or clothing line. This workshop also taught me about different washing techniques to be aware of water use.  The third workshop is called “Senza Spreco” and focuses on Food Waste Reduction and teaches students how to read food labels to reduce domestic food waste.

Independent projects and actions that all study abroad students engage in are reinforced and recognized through the ISI Florence “Green Stamp Contest.” This contest has been ongoing throughout the whole semester and consists of all students receiving a “sustainable card” that has about ten slots that can be stamped when a sustainable action or behavior is done by the student. To give students ideas of what can count for a green stamp, ISI Sustainability Initiative provides the following examples: reusing shopping bags and bringing your own tote bags around with you, eating local foods from markets rather than larger supermarkets, avoiding single-use plastic water bottles by bringing a reusable water bottle around during travels,  travel locally at least a couple of times during their semester abroad and when doing so to utilize public transportation such as trains rather than renting vehicles or flying, two forms of transportation that are notably negative for the environment. Every semester, ISI Florence hosts “The Big Event”, a special event that aims to involve as many American abroad students as possible to give back to the Florence community by cleaning public areas and gardens, removing illegal graffiti, and garbage from the streets, and stickers from street poles. Additionally, optional individual activities that can earn stamps and work toward being a Sustainability Representative are to create a list of sustainable actions for future study abroad students and to share them with ISI, and attend different community events such as the VinoKilo (a vintage clothes market), Fridays for Future, and UniFi Green Week. I really enjoyed going to the VinoKilo market with my friends and it was a great way to do something productive for the environment while taking part in a social activity. 

All in all, being a part of such an extraordinary effort within my study abroad program has been a valuable experience this semester and has taught me how to be a “greener” traveler and global citizen. Each of us has the power to harness the knowledge necessary to make our planet a better, more sustainable place, and I am happy to say that I am a part of that change!