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4 Unsung Environmental Benefits of Online Education


By Dennis Hung

Online learning is an excellent educational option that offers convenience, reduced costs and a personalized experience. It is estimated that almost half of all students will take an online course at least one time during their lifetime. Over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies use some form of online educational technology for employee training. Common courses among large enterprises are CCNA Data Center Training and other forms of system administration. According to IBM, online learning can boost productivity by up to 50 percent.

Telecommuting started to become popular during the 1990s. Employers quickly discovered that they could both reduce costs and increase employee satisfaction through allowing them to telecommute to work. Online learning offers similar benefits to the organization and individuals involved. However, there are extra benefits to online learning for the environment.

Online learning reduces the negative environmental impacts that come from manufacturing and transportation. The materials needed for traditional education institutions (textbooks, desks, electricity, buildings) are dramatically reduced. This reduces waste and conserves natural resources. Additionally, online learning saves money and time for both the learning institution and the student.

Here are four more things you'll save by choosing online learning:

1. Gas

American towns and cities tend to be decentralized. That is, residential, commercial, government and educational buildings are spread out to ensure proper urban growth. However, the downside is that the average American uses up to 600 gallons of gas a year. Much of this waste comes from speeding, waiting in traffic and idling the car in park while texting. Students who travel every day for just a few classes’ waste gas and natural resources. Online learning allows the student to learn from the comfort of their home while avoiding wear-and-tear on their vehicle and local roads.

2. Pollution and emissions

One study by the University of West Georgia revealed that for every 100 students who did not commute to school, carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by up to 10 tons every semester. Another study by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) showed that online learning courses resulted in a 90 percent emission reduction. The study specifically found that the average full-time traditional student created roughly 180 pounds of CO2 emissions, compared to only four pounds for an online student.

3. Natural resources

Buildings use large amounts of energy for power and heat. Energy consumption for students in regular classroom creates a CO2 equivalent of over 220 pounds, compared to only 10 pounds for an online student. The U.K.'s Open University Design Innovation Group (DIG) found that online learning consumes up to 90 percent less energy compared to traditional sources. In addition to this, constructing schools and educational institutions need plastic, metal, wood and other building materials. Online education reduces the demand for these raw goods which protects the environment.

4. Paper

Deforestation is a serious global issue. According to the National Wildlife Foundation, 60 percent of school waste is paper. One ton of paper waste is equal to 16 large trees. Recycling 10 tons of paper is equal to the use of up to 100 barrels of crude oil. The traditional education system notoriously over-uses “busy work,” which is a chronic source of paper waste. Online learning even reduces the energy and resources used to recycle paper.

Online education is an excellent way to save paper because the curriculum, assignments and even textbooks are all digital. Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona, started an innovative program called the Textbook Savings Program. This has reduced student’s costs by over 50 percent. Finally, administration paperwork, registration, finances can all be done through online portals.

Image credits: Stock images

Dennis Hung is a business and technology consultant. He’s passionate about conservation and spends much of his time out of the office promoting conservation best practices.

3p Contributor

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