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Towards sustainable higher education: environmental impacts of conventional campus, print-based and electronic/open learning systems

Roy, Robin; Potter, Stephen and Yarrow, Karen (2004). Towards sustainable higher education: environmental impacts of conventional campus, print-based and electronic/open learning systems. In: Murphy, D; Carr, R; Taylor, J. and Wong, T.M eds. Distance Education & Technology: Issues and Practice. Hong Kong: Open University of Hong Kong Press, pp. 129–145.

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This chapter summarises the methods and main findings of a study of the environmental impacts of providing HE courses by campus-based and distance/open learning methods.
Surveys of 20 UK courses – 13 campus-based, 7 print-based and on-line distance learning courses – covering travel, paper and print consumption, computing, accommodation, and campus site impacts. Conversion of results into energy and CO2 emissions per student per 100 hours of degree study.
Part-time HE courses reduce energy and CO2 emissions by 60% compared to full-time campus-based courses and distance learning courses involve nearly 90% less energy and 85% fewer CO2 emissions than the full-time campus courses. The lower impacts of part-time and distance compared to full-time campus courses is mainly due to a reduction in student travel and elimination of much energy consumption of students’ housing, plus economies in campus site utilisation,. E-learning appears to offer only small energy and emissions reductions compared to mainly print-based distance learning courses, mainly because e-learning requires more energy for computing and paper for printing.
Research limitations
Assumptions were made in order to calculate the energy and emissions arising from the different HE systems. E.g. it was decided to include all the energy consumed in term-time accommodation for full-time campus students while part-time campus and distance learning students live at home only requiring additional heating and lighting for study. Future studies could include more distance and blended learning courses offered by institutions other than the UK Open University and impacts other than CO2 emissions.
Practical implications
Existing HE sustainability programmes should be broadened beyond considering campus site impacts and ‘greening the curriculum’. Indeed, were HE expansion to take environmental impacts seriously, then part-time and distance education should be favoured over increasing full-time provision.

Item Type: Book Section
ISBN: 962-7707-47-3, 978-962-7707-47-9
Keywords: Energy; CO2 emissions; higher education; distance learning; e-learning
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Engineering and Innovation
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Research Group: Innovation, Knowledge & Development research centre (IKD)
Design and Innovation
Item ID: 6816
Depositing User: Robin Roy
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2007
Last Modified: 01 May 2019 13:17
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