At EF Education First, we are proud that our language, travel, cultural exchange, and academic programs create a positive impact for people around the world. Whether it’s by gaining knowledge, learning to communicate in a new language, or connecting across cultures, we want everyone to have the chance to experience the world. Climate change, however, threatens the world and all of us who call it home, so we intend to do our part to help ensure a more sustainable future for generations to come.
We are therefore excited to announce Hello Zero, our vision and commitment to voluntarily offset all of our global carbon emissions. The first step in this ambitious program is the EF Forest Initiative, a project to create and conserve forests around the world. Our goal with Hello Zero is two-fold: to be carbon negative every year starting in 2021, and to eventually become historically carbon neutral, removing all of the carbon we have ever emitted, directly or indirectly in association with our programs, since EF’s founding in 1965.
Achieving carbon neutrality means balancing the carbon created by activities like flying, driving buses, operating office spaces, and housing students with the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. Becoming carbon negative takes this a step further and involves removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than what’s emitted. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases contribute to global warming: as they build up in the atmosphere over time, they trap heat and the planet warms, disrupting everything from food production to clean water availability.
“Our education programs inspire curiosity and open people’s eyes to new and different perspectives,” said Dr. Eddie Hult, CEO of EF North America. “In many ways, the work we do every day at EF contributes directly to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. As scientists work to develop innovations to ensure a cleaner future, we, like all businesses, can and should do our part today. We’re proud to be among the first, if not the first, international education organization to make such an ambitious carbon commitment, and we can’t wait to share our progress with the millions of teachers, students, travelers, and staff who work with us each year. We hope others, both in our industry and beyond, will join us in our commitment to become carbon neutral.”
In the EF Forest Initiative’s first year, we will plant trees with Eden Reforestation Projects, a nonprofit organization that engages local communities in planting, maintaining, and guarding previously deforested areas. Eden will help us launch in Kenya, Madagascar, and Mozambique, selecting one site in each country to become an EF Forest that we sponsor and fund. Eden will plant 3 million trees on our behalf in 2021, and the effort will grow over time as we add more partners and locations.
We selected Eden Reforestation Projects as our first EF Forest partner because of its mission to restore healthy forests while creating economic opportunities in rural communities worldwide. Eden provides fair-wage employment and training to villagers, builds the infrastructure that supports the project, and guards against illegal logging, poaching, and other threats. Eden has planted more than 485 million trees and created more than 26,000 jobs across communities in Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, and Nicaragua.
EF Forests will create long-term environmental impact by prioritizing native species trees that can withstand ecological stressors, perform an array of ecosystem services (such as sediment regulation and storm protection) and sequester carbon at high rates. Take mangroves; these hardy trees thrive in muddy coastal areas often hard-hit by storms. Each mangrove removes about 12.3 kilograms (27 pounds) of carbon every year or about 308 kilograms (680 pounds) over its lifetime.
“While travel can be an important part of learning about the world, it’s critically important to find sustainable solutions that offset its environmental impact,” said Debra Crawford, Chief Development Officer at Eden Reforestation Projects. “EF’s reforestation work will help reduce its carbon footprint while educating the next generation about the role they can play in supporting the environment and local communities.”
In addition to the EF Forest Initiative, we’re focusing on several other areas to reach our Hello Zero goal, including a move to recycled materials for EF’s iconic backpacks; further reducing waste in our offices and schools; operational and supply chain improvements to reduce carbon emissions; and educational programs and experiences focused on sustainability. We’ll also introduce digital resources to communicate our goals and will regularly report on our progress as we make progress to net-zero carbon.
Our Hello Zero commitment to carbon neutrality complements our EF Responsible Travel Commitments, including our landmark commitment to animal welfare and collaboration with World Animal Protection. In 2018, EF became the first international education company to develop protocols for animal welfare best practices across all programs and avoid attractions that don’t meet these standards.
Travel is a powerful way to foster understanding of and respect for the people, cultures, and places of the world. With the launch of Hello Zero and the EF Forest Initiative, we, and our entire global community, will work together to help ensure a more sustainable shared future for everyone.