It’s Earth Day — Here’s How Remote Learning Helps the Planet

earth day 2022If you’re a regular on this blog, you know that we at Litmos have never been shy about extolling the values of eLearning. It’s good for your learners. It’s good for your organization. It’s great for your customers.

But did you also know that remote learning is good for the planet? For proof, you need look no further back than the last couple of years.

How did the pandemic impact the environment?

During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, workers and students stayed home across the planet. The lockdown acted as an unintentional experiment in carbon emission reductions, drastically reducing air pollutants and gas emissions in just a few weeks. As people stayed home, airplanes were grounded, and the highways sat mostly empty; the air started to clear up: smog dissipated, carbon emissions fell by 5.4%, and ozone levels dropped.

While lockdown levels of reduced air pollution have not persisted, there have been some lasting environmental effects of the pandemic. Chief among them: remote work.

Pre-pandemic, remote work was seen as a perk. Now remote work is rapidly becoming the norm. According to a 2021 study from Upwork, remote work is rising steadily: 40.7 million American professionals, nearly 28% of respondents to Upwork’s study, will be fully remote in the next five years, up from 22.9% in 2020.

A 2020 review of teleworking studies found that remote work reduces energy use; most of the energy savings is a result of dropping the daily commute. Other benefits to the environment come from better waste management: a UK study found that recycling increased dramatically during the lockdown. People tend to be more fastidious about recycling and waste management at home than they do at work. All of this points to benefits for the planet as well as for workers who enjoy working from home.

The benefits only increase when you factor in remote learning.

How does remote learning help the environment?

Traditionally, workforce training has been conference-based. That means your learners had to pack a bag, get on an airplane, or drive to a remote training site, where they’d spend one or more days in training sessions. Those events can generate a lot of emissions; just one commercial airplane burns one gallon of fuel a second, and is capable of burning 36,000 gallons in one 10 hour flight. Close to 2.1% of all global CO2 emissions come from aviation.

That just covers getting to the conference. Once your learners are at an in-person training, the waste generated there will be copious — from paper handouts, to binders and lanyards. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the pulp and paper manufacturing industry produces the sixth most air, water and land emissions in the U.S. In Canada, the paper industry produces the third most pollution. Printer cartridges are another story. More than 375 million empty ink and toner cartridges are thrown out every year, and while some of them are recycled, many aren’t — some are thrown away, and others aren’t completely recyclable. Those that are thrown out can take 1,000 years to decompose. There’s also catering waste. Think about all the coffee cups and water bottles handed out at conferences — and only 1 in 5 plastic bottles is actually recycled. The rest becomes litter or enters a landfill, where it will take 700 years to decompose. This is a huge problem when you consider that 10 million tons of plastic bottles are being dumped in the ocean every year.

Online learning cuts all of that waste out. Your team can learn from home without traveling, which eliminates travel emissions. They also don’t need to print anything out: their learning materials are digital and waiting for them online, wherever they are, so no one needs to waste any paper or ink cartridges or add to the landfills.

How can you make your online learning more sustainable?

There are, of course, several ways you can make your remote learning even more environmentally friendly.

  1. Turn off your camera: Data processing uses a lot of energy, which in turn produces a lot of energy. A recent study found that one hour of videoconferencing or streaming, for example, emits 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide, requires 2-12 liters of water and demands a land area adding up to about the size of an iPad Mini. To reduce emissions by 96%, encourage your learners to turn off their video during long meetings or training that doesn’t require it.
  2. Email sparingly. A recent article suggests that a typical user creates 135kg (298lbs) CO2e (i.e., carbon dioxide equivalent) from sending emails every year. When you consider how many unnecessary emails are sent, that makes sense. Consider switching to messaging apps to communicate with your learners.
  3. Encourage your users to switch off. There’s no reason learners should keep their devices on all night. Encourage them to conserve power by turning off their devices after work.

By helping your learners become more sustainable, you can improve their learning and improve the environment at the same time. Want more Earth Day eLearning facts? Check out this Litmos sustainability infographic.