The language teaching sector and the climate crisis

We are educators and business leaders with strong connections across our communities, with international partners and thousands of students. We have a huge opportunity for action – both directly cutting our emissions and empowering our students, colleagues and communities.

The science is clear, global warming is causing disastrous climate change. But what’s ELT’s role in climate action?

The UK ELT sector, and wider language teaching industry, contributes to climate change, will be impacted by it and can help stop its worst effects. We can change our working habits and businesses to reduce our emissions and help prevent increasingly extreme weather, heatwaves and droughts, floods and famines – saving lives, homes and communities.

And, as educators, we have an added opportunity.

We can raise awareness and lead by example in our schools and classrooms, empowering students from around the world with the language and critical skills they need to face the biggest global issues of our time. We are already invested in a better future for our students – their education, employment opportunities, good relationships and cultural experiences. Why not also protecting their future and the planet we all need to survive?

Plus, the language teaching industry has extensive community connections with homestay hosts, printers, caterers, travel companies and more, as well as with study abroad agents and educational tour operators.

Our reach is huge and we can make a difference.

Our international sector can make a difference

The climate crisis can feel overwhelming – action can feel pointless in face of damage caused by the biggest companies, government inaction, the sheer scale of the crisis and the work to be done.

But we can make a difference. Making individual changes is great, changing your profession and organisation even better and working for collective action across our whole industry is invaluable.

  • We can reduce our emissions from heating, transport, food, electricity etc.
  • We can engage and empower hundreds of thousands of students, hopefully reaching their families and communities in turn
  • We can change the norm in our sector and language education
  • We can positively influence partners and colleagues around the world
  • We can support local and national projects and campaigns

Time and again, people have come together and transformed society – we have taken to the streets, town hall, polls and picket lines to win better working conditions and suffrage, to end oppression, segregation and social injustice.

The world is of our making and together we can create a greener, fairer and safer world for everyone. Plus, action feels good. Taking action give us, our families, businesses and our planet the best hope for the future.

For a better learning experience

Environmental impact and sustainability touch every aspect of our lives.

Including questions about emissions and pollution in transport chapters; discussing dyes, waste and working conditions in clothing sections; and investigating water and land use in food modules, not only reflects topical issues and expands learning, but enriches students’ vocabulary, conversational skills and critical thinking.

“Sustainability is a way to deal with matters that are having a bigger impact on our students’ lives by the year. Surely we should be empowering our learners to take part in the international sustainability dialogue. This will empower them to be part of the solutions in their language learning journey and beyond.”

Owain Llewellyn

If you fear imposing topics on your students, remember – continuing lessons ‘as normal’ is not neutral or impartial. Instead, ignoring how we impact our world actively promotes a mindset and lifestyle that creates waste, pollution and destruction. Plus, as a thoughtful and skilled teacher, you won’t ‘preach’ about environmental topics just as you don’t about grammar!

Learners want to see green credentials

According to Times Higher Education research in 2021, potential students rank sustainability and green reputation on a par with employment prospects and higher than location.

Taking environmental responsibility will not only benefit our planet, but can also be an excellent way to attract students as concern about climate change grows.

People are changing their habits, purchases and services to make greener, more ethical choices. Likewise, students looking to study English in the UK will be looking for schools that clearly understand their environmental responsibilities. And they will quickly see through any greenwashing as awareness and knowledge grow. This will apply to recruiting the best staff too.

As public awareness grows, businesses that cannot demonstrate their green credentials are likely to be overtaken by those that do.

Our sector contributes to climate change

All businesses affect the environmental and international education is a significant emitter.

In the UK, where our volunteers are based, English language centres welcomes half a million students to the UK each year – almost all of whom fly here. Once they are here, our students need accommodation, classrooms and computer rooms, meals, materials, activities and excursions. Our teams need offices and equipment, and our marketers fly around the world building relationships and securing business.

Of course, there are others who contribute far more than the UK ELT industry. And ‘fixing’ the climate crisis cannot fall solely to individuals and small businesses or tweaks to consumption.

But we have a part to play – UK ELT cannot change the world alone but the world cannot change without everyone doing their bit. We can be part of the movement that saves life of earth, and even take a leading role.

The greatest change must be made in the richest countries

The greatest stress on our planet is not how many people there are, but what and how much we consume. If you are based in the UK, Europe or another wealthy country, your nation will have an especially energy and resource hungry lifestyle.

The richest 1% has a carbon footprint twice the size of the poorest half of the world’s population combined. The wealthiest 20% of the global population is responsible for 90% of “overshoot” carbon in the atmosphere (that which exceeds the limit needed to keep global temperature rise below 2ºC).

To make sense of these figures, if you earn over £13,250 a year you are in the richest 10% of people on the planet. About 30% of people in the UK earn £13,200 or less, while an annual pre-tax income £39,800 would place you in the top 10% in the UK. There is an enormous disparity in wealth, and in contribution to global warming, between the wealthiest and poorest nations.

Therefore, for climate action to be both effective and just, the greatest changes must be made in wealthy nations. There is an extra onus on us in the UK, one of the richest and most carbon intense countries, to dramatically reduce our emissions.

Climate change is going to impact us

The UK is going to be impacted by climate change, everywhere is.

If we do not want to live with, or for our loved ones to live with, increasingly extreme storms, drought and flooding, food shortages and the spread of diseases carried by mosquitoes and tics, we need to change our planets trajectory.

We can see where our planet is heading and what lies in store if we do nothing.