LAS is an award-winning provider of elearning consultancy, design, development and training services in the UK and internationally.
Established in 2005 as LearningAge Solutions, we work with some of the best known organisations in the world to boost their performance through the innovative use of learning technologies. Working in partnership with our customers, we draw on proven principles from human behaviour, how people learn and how the brain works to create impactful digital learning solutions with real return on investment.
Tess is a director of LAS. She has worked in a learning environment for over twenty years. First, as a senior manager in universities, moving into digital learning ten years ago.
By Tess Robinson
Posted 14 March 2022
As part of B Corp month, we are going #BehindtheB to take a look at the environmental impact of digital learning
A 2008 study by the Open University found that distance learning courses on average involved 87% less energy consumption and produced 85% fewer CO2 emissions per student. These incredible stats are often cited, however, at 14 years old, is this study still relevant? Since then, surprisingly little research has been conducted on the sustainability of digital v face-to-face training. Technology and its infrastructure have developed massively in the past decade and a half and the pandemic has accelerated its use further. It’s a very different landscape now to 2008. Is elearning still as environmentally advantageous?
There are some very good arguments for claiming that digital learning is more environmentally friendly than face-to-face learning:
1. Less travel - For example, going digital and remote would mean that a workshop of 20 people, each making a 20 mile return journey by car would save 224 kg of CO2 - the equivalent of an hour of flying
2. Less energy needed for power, heat and cooling in the training room
3. Less catering waste
4. Less paper used
But is this the whole story?
The carbon footprint of digital is surprisingly large and growing fast, but this is not something that is widely discussed. Professor Mike Hazas from the University of Upsaala has found that digital accounts for a tenth of global electricity consumption (which is expected to double by 2030) and 3% of carbon emissions globally, which staggeringly, is broadly similar to the airline industry(!!)
This energy use goes into manufacturing devices, running data centres and networks and powering the devices themselves. The mining of precious non-renewable natural resources, such as lithium and copper, to be used in our devices also has a significant environmental impact.
Moore’s law tells us that we can expect the speed and capability of our computers to double every couple of years, meaning also that we will have to consume more to keep up. The good news is that improvements in efficiency mean that these increases don’t necessarily translate to an equal increase in environmental impact. It is, however, something that we need to keep a close eye on.
So how can we make sure that the environmental impact of the digital learning we produce is minimised? As a B Corp, we meet the highest environmental standards already, but we know that we can always do more. These are the measures that we take at LAS:
1. Where possible, we ensure that the energy that is coming into our workplaces to power our devices is on a 100% renewable tarif.
2. When using cloud services, we make sure that we look at the environmental credentials of the providers and how they are committing to reducing the carbon footprint of running their servers and choose accordingly.
3. We have significantly reduced our use of single-use plastics and have Plastic-Free status from SAS. This means considering every disposable plastic thing that you use in the business - pens, folders, drinks bottles, plastic bags etc.. and considering what you could use instead.
4. We reuse or recycle as much waste as we can. We turn off all equipment when we aren’t using it, to reduce energy use in standby mode.
5. We try not to print documents out unless absolutely necessary. If they are printed out, we use recycled paper or paper from sustainable sources.
6. Our printers use recycled cartridges or ink wells (which don’t need cartridges).
7. The majority of the LAS team are home-based, reducing the carbon-cost of commuting. Most of our meetings are conducted remotely but, where we do need to travel to meet with customers, we use public transport where possible.
8. We use low energy LED lighting in our workplaces
9. Anything that we can’t reduce, we offset. It’s really important not just to do this as default, but to reduce as much as you can yourself first. Not all carbon-offsetting schemes are equal. To ensure that your money will actually make a difference, we recommend only using a Gold Standard scheme.
10. We have environmental impact as a regular agenda item for team meetings, along with other B Corp key areas. It’s also regularly discussed on our team chat channel, so we can share ideas for how we can continue to improve.
If you want to go further, you can also consider the types of media you are using in your digital learning. For example, streaming a video uses more energy than downloading a document.
It’s really easy to overlook the environmental impact of digital, as it’s often hidden. However, as our reliance on technology grows exponentially, it will become more and more apparent that it’s not without cost to our planet. Why should digital businesses care? Well, without a planet, there is no business.