Paperless: 5 Ways Taking Online Classes Benefits The Environment

Online learning is a hot topic in today’s schools, but environmental concerns are often left out of the debate.

In addition to the positive effects digital classrooms can have on students, they also benefit the Earth. From reducing paper and other waste to conserving natural resources, here are five environmental benefits of a digital classroom you may not have considered.

Reduced Gasoline Consumption

Transportation accounts for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and personal vehicles are our most common mode of transport.

A digital classroom eliminates the need for traveling back and forth from a physical school building. Therefore, students and teachers engaged in online learning immediately reduce their carbon footprints.

We don’t just use gas for driving, either. Nearly everything we touch leaves a streak of oil behind it, from the plastic in many of our everyday goods to the produce transported thousands of miles to reach our plates.

When students, teachers and other school staff play their roles from home, a lot of oil is saved. Not only do they drive less, they also buy less.

The US saves energy on producing and transporting food, school supplies and other educational materials.

Makes Less Trash

How many things do you throw out during the day? Do you accumulate more waste when you’re on the go?

From paper coffee cups to granola bar wrappers, not to mention lunch packaging and food waste, schools collect an unbelievable amount of trash each day.

As a country, we discard about 40 percent of our food each year.

Anyone who’s ever thrown out the lunch Mom packed and eaten french fries instead can imagine how schools contribute to the food waste problem.

When we throw out food, we waste not only the item itself, but also the environmental cost that went into producing it, from water and pesticides to factory production and transportation.

And, when food breaks down in a landfill, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas.

Eating at home cuts down on trash because you tend to use real dishes instead of paper products. You’re also more likely to just take the food you want to eat, cutting down on food waste.

Picture the large trash cans in every school cafeteria. Now imagine them disappearing one at a time as a physical classroom becomes a digital classroom.

Encourages Paperless Learning

Paper is another big source of waste in traditional classrooms, accounting for up to 60 percent in schools.

It’s everywhere: paper towels in the bathroom; paper textbooks; worksheets and other learning materials; notebooks; printer paper; permission slips, health forms and other administrative sheets; paper plates, cups and napkins in the cafeteria.

As with food and other discarded items, the environment suffers not only from the waste of the paper itself, but from all of the energy and emissions required to produce and transport it.

And while many companies offer ink cartridge recycling, most cartridges still end up in landfills.

Digital learning solves most of the paper problem with eBooks, online tests and homework, completion of administrative paperwork online and the ability to take notes on a computer instead of on paper.

Also, when people use their own resources, such as printer paper, they’re less likely to be wasteful.

Conserves Natural Materials

Building a new school or renovating an existing one may seem like a positive addition to a community, but think of all the natural materials required to construct a school.

From wood and stone to glass and steel, many of the earth’s resources go into any new construction. And that’s just the first part.

Most schools just aren’t serious about designing the best possible energy strategy. Once it’s open, schools consume natural resources for cleaning, lighting, climate control and food production.

And while new buildings consume resources in their construction, old buildings are typically less energy efficient, which also contributes to waste.

Just as students and teachers who educate from home will drive less, they will also use fewer natural resources.

Creates an Efficient Economy of Scale

Technology has revolutionized many of the ways we conduct our everyday lives, from business to personal communication.

Education has also been transformed by the digital age; 78 percent of K-12 teachers believe technology is a positive influence on their field.

One of the most significant effects is the ability to create and distribute curriculum on an economy of scale. Simply put, once digital classes are created, they are easy to reuse.

Unlike in a physical classroom, in which new books and learning materials need to be printed every time a new class begins, a digital curriculum can be distributed with a few keystrokes.

This saves paper, energy and other resources.

In a world where even the Pope has joined the conversation about climate change, environmental concerns are no longer just the province of “tree-hugging” hippies.

If we want to stop, or at least reduce our exploitation of resources and damage to our planet, we need to consider the environment in everything we do.

Using technology to educate students in a less wasteful manner is one example. Whatever your opinion of digital classrooms, the environmental benefits cannot be ignored.