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The Environmental Advantages of Online Education

When it comes to higher education, choosing an online program is the best way to “go green.”

There are plenty of benefits to choosing to pursue online education. Online degrees have exploded in popularity in recent years, largely due to the convenience of doing schoolwork from home or while on the move. However, one less-touted benefit of the industry is that it reduces the environmental impact of higher education.

Millennials are conscious about the impact their decisions have on the environment, and their living and purchasing habits reflect that. Unsurprisingly, this mindset is leading many students towards embracing an online education. If you have taken or are currently enrolled in an online program, you have already made a positive impact on the environment.

There are three primary ways that such programs are eco-friendly: they reduce traffic, reduce energy use, and consume less paper.

●    Clear Roads

It should be no surprise to readers that road traffic is one of the biggest contributors to pollution on the planet. Students often have to commute for several hours each week. On larger campuses, they may have to take several trips throughout the day or rely on university shuttles. This traffic congestion has been a big source of CO2 emissions — and headaches for those living in college towns.

As more students adopt online classes, enrollment at on-campus programs will continue to go down. This has and will continue to reduce traffic, meaning less fuel use, less congestion on the roads, and less pollution. Cumulatively, these benefits add up to a lot more than you might think. One study suggests that, for every 10 students who opt for an online education rather than a traditional one, CO2 emissions could be reduced by a metric ton.

●    Lights Out 

onlin eeducationCollege campuses need fuel. Keeping facilities running consumes a great deal of natural resources; buildings need access to lighting, air conditioning, heating, and technology like computers and projectors. Maintaining these needs throughout the year can be costly, both to administrators and the environment. Universities across the nation have embraced initiatives to reduce fuel consumption. Solar panels — devices that can convert solar energy into electricity — are proving to be a popular choice at colleges, though they do not completely offset the environmental cost of operating a campus.

Online programs, on the other hand, can eliminate the need for these facilities in the first place. Over 30 percent of all students take part in online courses, and fewer physical class sessions means less fuel consumption and pollution. Environmentally aware students often opt for online courses due to this simple fact.

●    Saving Trees

Mankind cuts down over 15 billion trees, or approximately one half of a percent of all trees on the planet, each year. Just over 25 percent of that is used for paper. There are a plethora of negative effects of deforestation, including increased pollution, soil erosion, loss of natural habitats, coastal flooding, and more. Obviously, it behooves us to reduce our reliance on trees. Decreasing our reliance on paper in higher education can help accomplish this.

Online education, obviously, has a much smaller need for paper use. Lessons, assessments, and applications can all be completed online, leading to a much smaller carbon footprint. While required textbooks can account for a considerable amount of paper, e-books are gradually replacing them. Some institutions, like Concordia University, even offer free e-books to qualifying students. Efforts like these can severely reduce our reliance on paper in academia.

When it comes to higher education, choosing an online program is the best way to “go green.” With the Trump administration’s focus on deconstructing the EPA, it can be easy to grow pessimistic about the future of the environment. Of course, drastic policy shifts are necessary to protect the environment. However, there are steps we can take in our personal lives to reduce our carbon footprint. Taking your education online could be a powerful step in the right direction.

Devin Morrissey is the author of this article.

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