The tree planting helps to offset to the carbon costs associated with student travel.
Elon University students and faculty were on hand for an inaugural tree-planting in Florence, Italy, co-sponsored by Elon, the Accademia Europea di Firenze (AEF) and the Comune di Firenze on May 11.
AEF Director of Student Life Elisabetta Santanni said that a tree is being planted for each semester student studying at AEF “as a way of offsetting the carbon costs associated with student travel.” In addition to the environmental benefits, she notes the goal is to “increase the students’ awareness of their impact on the environment and create a bond with the city.”
The tree-planting is the first such collaboration between the city of Florence and a program primarily serving U.S. students. In light of this innovation, AEF President Gustavo Gesteira expressed gratitude for the support of Florence’s Mayor Dario Nardella, as well as the assistance provided by Deputy Mayors Elisabetta Meucci and Andrea Giorgio.
“Through this initiative of planting a tree for each Elon University student at AEF, we believe that we have not only contributed to the reduction of carbon emissions but also established a strong and lasting bond between each student and the city of Florence,” Gesteira said. “This is one of the sustainability initiatives jointly promoted for our students by the Student Life & Community Engagement Office and the Sustainability Action Group of AEF, led by Elisabetta Santanni and John Pearson, respectively.”
Nick Gozik, dean of Global Education at Elon, similarly heralds the program, saying that, “The tree-planting in Florence aligns with other initiatives that our university has launched to build consciousness around the environmental impacts of travel associated with global education.” He adds that such efforts “are necessary both for promoting a more sustainable planet, yet also in recognizing the effects that our travel has on host communities and the people who live in them.”
As part of Elon’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2037 as outlined in the Boldy Elon strategic plan, the Carbon Neutral Global Engagement Initiative began in fall 2020 through a collaboration between the Office of Sustainability and the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center (GEC). Through this initiative, Elon purchases verified carbon offsets on an annual basis to account for the carbon impact of Elon’s global programs.
Gozik notes that the tree-planting in Florence connects with a tradition of planting of oak trees at Elon and the overall significant of trees to the institution, as “Elon” means “oak” in Hebrew. Upon arriving at Elon, each new student is given an acorn to symbolize the beginning of their college careers. At graduation, the graduate is given an oak sapling to celebrate the growth they have experienced throughout their time at Elon as well as the growth they will encounter as lifelong learners. Alumni are encouraged to log where they have planted their saplings in an interactive map found on the university’s website.
This tradition has been expanded for international students, who often cannot take their oak saplings to their home country, with the annual International Tree-Planting in the International Grove located on Elon’s campus.