Incorporating Sustainability in Everything We Do: We're a Finalist for Forum's 2023 Sustainability Award

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IES Abroad

We’re excited to announce that we have been selected as a 2023 finalist of The Forum on Education Abroad’s Award for Advancing the SDGs through Education Abroad! This is the second year we've been recognized as a finalist for this award.

We are honored to be in the great company of the four other Finalists: Temple University, Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI), AIFS Abroad, and Big Pond Education.

Nominees were ranked based on their implementation of the guidelines for Advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through Education Abroad over the past academic year, and five finalists were chosen.  

The winner of the 2023 Award will be announced during the virtual portion of the Forum’s 20th Annual Conference, which will take place on March 7, 2024, and and acknowledged on-site in Boston during the Awards Luncheon on March 22.

Here's what the Forum's Award Selection Committee had to say about us:

Forum on Education Abroad
“IES Abroad’s Global Good Commitment integrates the UN’s SDGs across all aspects of their organization, including: People & Equity; Academics & Career-Readiness; Engagement & Resources; Sustainable Operations & Services. IES Abroad is dedicated to developing courses, curriculum, experiential learning, and co-curricular programming rooted in sustainable practices in alignment with their three Global Pillars: Sustainable Living, Equitable Living, and Human Wellbeing. They introduced a Designing the Sustainable City course, which provides students the opportunity to engage in a multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural learning community that addresses a global issue. IES Abroad is innovating in the field of study abroad, sustainability literacy, and the ability to find innovative solutions to tackle global concerns”
Forum Award Selection Committee

Our Global Good Commitment and the Importance of Sustainable Development Goals


Here at IES Abroad, our commitment to the representation and integration of diverse perspectives, cultures, and ideas is essential to fulfilling our mission. As a study abroad provider, we have a responsibility and a unique opportunity to be a catalyst for change, and our programs are integral in training the leaders of tomorrow. 

We are also dedicated to doing all that we can to be an active participant in fostering a more sustainable and equitable world through our Global Good Commitment. We believe study abroad is a path for students to understand sustainability and equity from a global perspective and develop the problemsolving skills they need, and employers seek.  

We've taken inspiration from the UN's Sustainable Development Goals to create a framework to guide the way we think about incorporating and implementing the “global good” into and throughout our organization, including the courses we offer our students. This framework includes our IES Abroad Global Pillars: Sustainable Living & Sustainable Production, Equitable Living, and Human Well-Being. 

Michael Adewumi headshot
“At IES Abroad, our work is to shape the global leaders of the future. To accomplish this goal, we need to consider the concerns that loom largest in the minds of today’s students about the world they will inherit. Developing relevant, impactful academic initiatives around our Global Pillars is our highest priority so that we may give our students the platform, opportunity, and tools to engage in finding real-world solutions for a more sustainable, equitable, and kinder way of life for all.”
Dr. Michael Adewumi • Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at IES Abroad

Integrating UN Sustainable Development Goals into Our Curriculum

four students walking across a field of grass in front of an oceanside mountain

According to the New York Times, there’s an increase in demand at colleges and universities (and particularly business schools) for ESG-related offerings. The Hill also reports that demand for sustainability jobs are soaring and there are not enough qualified professionals to fill them. Sustainability plays, and will continue to play, an important role in a student’s education regardless of their academic focus and career aspirations.

In 2019, IES Abroad assembled an external Curriculum Audit and Transformation (CAT) Task Force comprised of academic leaders from our Consortium partner universities. The Task Force was charged with examining IES Abroad’s curriculum and making recommendations on how to increase its transformative impact. One of the most prominent recommendations was to integrate the UN-SDGs into IES Abroad courses and co-curricular programming.     After internally examining the 17 SDGs, IES Abroad combined the most relevant issues that could best be addressed by study abroad into our IES Abroad Global Pillars. 

By integrating Global Pillars into our curriculum more broadly, IES Abroad has the potential to educate students to understand that many of the global challenges do not recognize national boundaries, and their resolution must be tackled on a worldwide scale involving collaboration among nations, both rich and poor. Furthermore, the solutions to these global challenges will require a broad knowledge and will not be confined to one academic discipline. We strive to infuse these pillars into our courses, new program development, experiential opportunities, and co-curricular programming. 

Designing the Sustainable City: A Course for Sustainable Literacy

Out of this initiative grew our Designing the Sustainable City course. The course was piloted at three Centers (Barcelona, London, Milan) with 16 students in Spring 2022, and there are now 11 participating Centers (Barcelona, Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, Madrid, Nice, Santiago, Tokyo, Cape Town/Milan Vienna). Given the success and importance of the course, there’s plans for expansion so that more students can benefit from the meaningful coursework. 

Designing the Sustainable City provides students: 

  • The opportunity to engage in a multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural learning community that addresses a global issue.  
  • Exposure to the most pressing environmental issues in their cities, and engagement in a variety of projects that allow them to hone their skills in team building, negotiation, data collection and analysis, and multi-media presentations in an international setting.  
    • Students work in small teams to design a project that can offer solutions to the issues they have identified at the local level, considering the environmental, historical and social characteristics of their host city. Students learn the most effective ways to solve problems in teams representing diverse perspectives and backgrounds, thus preparing them to succeed in future projects and careers.  
  • Substantive field visits and connections with local NGOs allow students to gather valuable data and information as they develop their projects; innovative technology enables them to share their experience and findings across the three locations; and problem-based learning will culminate in each team delivering a multi-media presentation to the group.  Field Trip Examples: 
    • Water Observatory of Terrassa (OAT) in Barcelona: Students spoke to a representative from the Taula de l’Aigua (Water Table), a citizen platform overseeing the process of re-municipalizing the water services in the city.  
    • Unió de Pagesos de Catalunya (Catalan Farmers’ Union) in Mataró 
    • Visiting the Olympic Park in London for a sustainability tour with an urban regeneration specialist  
    • Multi-day trip to learn about climate and the vegetation in the Black Forest and Swiss Alps 
  • Projects directly impact the well-being of their local host communities. For example:  
    • In Barcelona, students developed a flexible, electric shared public taxi service integrated with the metro system to help passengers, especially more vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the elderly, to travel the last mile in areas not effectively covered by public transport.  
    • In Milan, students developed a public-private partnership to provide services and infrastructure for participating businesses to incentivize their employees to cycle to work, aiming to change the culture of cycling in Milan which currently is perceived as a leisure only activity.  
    • In London, students developed a shared locker scheme for use by all delivery companies, using the infrastructure of the London Tube, with the aim to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions by minimizing the use of delivery vans in London. 

Upon successful completion of this course, students earn a micro-credential in Sustainability and Development that demonstrates their sustainability literacy and ability to find innovative solutions to complex problems. 

What People are Saying:

After the course, students are given the opportunity to provide feedback and reflection in a debrief document.  

Two of the Spring 2022 Barcelona students said this course had galvanized them to finalize plans to conduct research in areas related to social equality and sustainability. This is exactly the type of curiosity and commitment for sustainability and equitable living we’re trying to foster through study abroad for the future through future global leaders.  

Mark Rush Headshot
“The whole group of us are here to take the next steps in designing this course, see what's working, what isn't, and troubleshoot. Working out the logistics is a great challenge. It’s a pretty intense course, and you only have these students for one term, usually. They're also from many different sorts of universities. So, how do you make the course cohere quickly and move forward across several Centers? I think that's really the impressive aspect of what this team here is doing. They’re laying the foundation to expand this course into a truly unique study abroad experience. It is humbling and inspiring to see so many different faculty from diverse backgrounds and locations collaborating to make this project—that is truly global—grow and succeed .”
Mark Rush, Ph.D. | IES Abroad Chair of the General Council & Academic Council Member| Director of International Education and Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law, Washington and Lee University

Sustainable Operations at IES Abroad 

Student picking up trash on beach in Positano

Our dedication to the UN’s SDGs extends beyond our curriculum. As an organization, we are committed to reducing our consumption and production, both in our Chicago Headquarters and at our 34 Centers abroad. In direct connection with our carbon footprint, we have invested in purchasing carbon offsets for all Staff travel over the past fiscal year. Moving forward, this will be a permanent part of our budget. We know though, that our work in reducing our carbon footprint must be multi-faceted and reach beyond the purchase of carbon offsets. This multi-faceted approach includes the following practices: 

Paper and Office Materials

At our Chicago Headquarters, Office Services will replace all paper and plastic with sustainably sourced materials, over time. We have reduced our use of paper to almost nothing, with a switch to distributing PDFs instead of hard copies for editing. This year, we invested in updating our catalogs to a smaller size and printed them on 100% post-consumer waste paper using soy-based ink. To further reduce waste, we printed 40% less catalogs than we have in the past. We are practicing a hybrid print/digital model which allows paperless school partners and students to access catalogs digitally. Beyond the production of our catalogs, we are also only purchasing and distributing sustainably sourced “swag” at Study Abroad Fairs and other events. When our employees travel for these events, we encourage travel by car instead of air where possible. We also use stainless steel silverware rather than single-use plastic wear at our office. We're so proud to be contributing to our Global Good Commitment in another way.

Our Centers

In addition to the operational practices at our Headquarters, we are also dedicated to sharing knowledge and resources across our Centers. At our Centers around the world, IES Abroad staff members are making huge strides in becoming more sustainable.


We are mindful of how we can make the events we host more sustainable. We purchased carbon offsets for our IES Abroad dinner during Forum, and we are making our Annual Conference as paper-free as possible, moving to an app vs. a printed program, making our catalogs accessible digitally, providing sustainably sourced swag, hosting our Film Festival at a LEED Certified venue powered by 100% renewable energy and uses an on-site composting and recycling system to reduce event-related waste, and more. This year, we hosted our Annual Conference at a LEED Certified conference venue, the Raddison Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago designed by Jeanne Gang.

Learn more about our Global Good Commitment

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