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Going Green: Why Distance Education is Better for the Environment

Dec 27, 2007 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

Global warming isn’t just smoke and mirrors.  The signs are everywhere—from melting polar ice caps to increasingly severe hurricanes and other storms—and they’re getting worse.  The good news is that the smallest individual actions can make a difference, if enough people participate.  Even the school you choose can help or hurt the environment.

Online schools aren’t just good for individual students.  They’re also good for the environment.  Here are five reasons why online education is much greener than any traditional school.

No commute; no car exhaust

Car exhaust is an enormous contributor to global warming.  Cars emit CO2, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere every time you drive—and U.S. cars contribute to half the world’s total CO2 emissions.   Among those who contribute to the problem are students who drive to school.  Students who are environmentally conscious may elect to take the bus or share a car, but even then some exhaust is still emitted.  It’s much better to walk or ride a bike, but many students live too far away from campus for this to be practical.

As an online student, you don’t have to go anywhere to get to class.  Buses and car pools might be cleaner than individual cars, but they can’t beat no commute at all.  As an online student, your commute is generally from your front door to your home computer—and you don’t emit much CO2 exhaust getting there.

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A smaller footprint

Habitat loss threatens wildlife all over the world.  Human population growth and development of open space has limited the amount of places where wild animals can live, breed, hunt, and migrate without threat of harassment.

Some traditional college campuses are beautiful—with wide, rolling greens and stately trees.  But that doesn’t make them environmentally friendly.  These large, rambling campuses still consume wildlife habitat.  Some online colleges maintain their picture-perfect grounds by poisoning wildlife that encroaches on it.  Even if a college maintains its grounds through more humane methods, it’s still fragmenting valuable wild space.

Online schools need centralized locations, just as traditional campuses do.  But traditional campuses are not just places for administrators to work.  They also need classrooms, student centers, housing, libraries, athletic centers, and more.  Many traditional colleges are forced to keep developing in order to satisfy donors. 

A school that operates only online has no need for a showcase campus.  With a smaller physical presence, these schools also have a smaller environmental footprint.

No campus means less energy output

It’s true—your laptop does use energy.  But think about all the energy a traditional campus uses: lighting for classrooms and buildings; heating and air conditioning for immense lecture halls; and much more.  According to the EPA, U.S. colleges spend more than $2 billion annually on energy costs—and more than 30% of that is wasted.

Online schools have fewer buildings to heat and cool.  They don’t have to maintain lighting and energy in a vast network of classrooms, labs, dorm rooms, and offices.  When you go to school online, your classroom is your laptop—and by skipping the campus experience, you’re saving energy.

Online education is a paper saver

Traditional classrooms still rely heavily on paper. Handouts and information packets; class schedules; assignments to be handed in; tests to grade—all of these are printed on paper and passed back and forth between administrators, teachers, and students.  People in the U.S. use about 700 pounds of paper per year—and that’s a lot of trees.

With an online school, most of your communication is digital.  Instead of printing out and handing in your assignments, you simply email your professor a word document.  Your syllabus, class schedule, and handouts are sent to you as digital files.  Online colleges use less paper overall, and that’s good news for the environment.

No printer? No problem

Many assignments at online colleges can be completed entirely on the computer—from research to handing in.  Much of the time, students don’t have to print assignments.  Compare that to a traditional college setting, where most classroom assignments are still handed in on paper.  The computer lab at a traditional college setting is often crowded during the final days of class, as students rush to get their end-of-term papers and assignments printed.

Each year, Americans use and discard over 600 million ink cartridges.  Most of these end up in landfills, where leaking ink pollutes soil and leaches into waterways.  A small fraction of these are recycled, and recycling does help—but it’s better not to use all this ink in the first place.  When you go to an online school, you’ll use less ink and throw away fewer printer cartridges.

There is nothing more important than the health of our planet.  Online students make a difference by choosing schools that use less energy, require less paper and ink, take up less space, and don’t require a commute.  If you’re looking for the greenest campus experience possible, don’t choose a school with a campus.

Want to learn more about green education? Want to learn about solar panel installation education? You can do your part by using power from solar panels and renewable energy sources. Learn how to pick a solar energy contractor with a solar energy course. Or learn some of the top ways to lower your home's energy consumption or save money by hiring a renewal energy installer.

What laws are important to protecting the environment? Take a course in environmental law in more details be sure to look into a RCRA training as it deals with disposal of hazardous materials. Or study how ISO 14001 in environmental management helps to maintain and improve environmental performance. The proper management of stormwater and waster resource management helps to mitigate toxic runoff and flooding in population areas. NPDES training helps to address surface water issues.



ADAMA J. ADAMA Over a year ago

Interesting article. Distance learning is indeed the future of education.

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