Sustainable services, electronic education and the rebound effect

Herring, Horace and Roy, Robin (2002). Sustainable services, electronic education and the rebound effect. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 22(5) pp. 525–542.




This paper challenges the belief that improving the efficiency of resource use will necessarily lead to lower consumption. Findings are presented of a study by the UK Open University of the environmental impacts of three higher education (HE) delivery systems. Initial analysis indicates that the distance-taught courses involve 90% less energy and CO2 emissions than the campus courses. Electronic delivery does not result in a reduction in energy or CO2 emissions compared to print-based distance learning, due to rebound effects, e.g. in use of computers and home heating. The paper concludes that to limit consumption, we need to deal with rebound effects and practice ‘sustainable consumption’.

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