Factoring sustainability into the Higher Education product-service system

Roy, Robin and Potter, Stephen (2002). Factoring sustainability into the Higher Education product-service system. Journal of Sustainable Product Design, 2(3-4) pp. 105–117.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JSPD.0000031063.79557.ee


This paper summarises the findings of the first phase of a major study of the environmental impacts of an important service system - higher education (HE). The study assessed three methods of providing HE: conventional campus-based courses and distance/open learning courses using print-based and electronic delivery, with the following key findings. (1) On average, the distance taught Open University (OU) courses involved 90% less energy and CO2 emissions (per unit of study) than the campus based courses, mainly due to reductions in student travel and housing energy consumption, plus scale economies in campus site utilisation. (2) The OU e-learning course had over 20% higher environmental impacts than the print-based OU course, due to higher use of computing, paper consumption for printing web-based material, and extra home heating during Internet access. Programmes to reduce the environmental impacts of HE should be broadened beyond 'greening' the campus and the curriculum to include the impacts of student travel and housing. The study challenges claims that 'de-materialisation' and using ICT to provide services such as HE necessarily reduces environmental impacts. Service system environmental impacts depend mainly on its requirements for transport and a dedicated infrastructure of buildings and equipment. ICT will only benefit the environment if they reduce the service's requirements for these elements.

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