For any business deciding whether or not to replace existing training with eLearning (and in what proportion), there are several factors* to consider, including the “ecological footprint” of various training methods.
I can’t tell you what the footprint of your training is, but I can tell you how I calculated mine when I created my “Leave a Legacy, Not a Footprint” eWheel in 2007. If you follow the same steps, you will be able to understand your impact and reduce it, even if you are not able to calculate the exact value.
The first thing I did was to make a list of environmental aspects and impacts associated with the processes of face-to-face training and eLearning. I also looked at meetings; in-person vs. using web technology. My list of processes:
- Building training facilities (not used otherwise); material production and transportation, land use
- Furnishing training facilities (furniture, electronics; production, shipment, disposal)
- Using facilities (air conditioning, heating, water use and treatment)
- Printing of paper materials, including drafts/mistakes that are thrown away
- Production of non-paper materials used in face-to-face
- Shipping of materials to training site
- Traveling by instructors and participants to training site, daily commuting or extended stays
- Living arrangements for instructors and participants who are not commuting
I made the assumption that with virtual learning, there would be a negligible increase in computer usage because in 2007 most office workers had at least one work computer and one home computer, all being served by network servers connected through intranet and Internet equipment. To be completely fair, if everyone did everything electronically, the environmental impact of computers would rise, but by how much I don’t know.
From the processes, I made a list of environmental aspects associated with them. An aspect is an output of your process that you can touch (and possibly measure) that will affect the environment.
- CO2 (metric tons) – every process above contributes to this aspect.
- Freshwater used (gallons)
- Water treated (gallons)
- Electricity used (KWhr)
- Heat produced (therms)
- Crude Oil (barrels)
- Noise (decibels/hour)
- Light pollution
- Pollution (from chemical used in production and disposal)
- Non-productive time (person-hrs)
Next, I searched the web to find data on each of these. I found three particularly helpful sites:
- The Oil Drum – discussions about energy and our future. This site gave me a great starting place for calculating the impacts of travel.
- CarbonFund.org – I used their formulae for calculating the carbon footprint of travel and office activities.
- Ecological Footprint analysis of The Countryside Council for Wales offers a comprehensive look at how our daily activities impact the environment.
Each of these sources led me to several additional sources. Because many of the aspects are algebraically equivalent to others (e.g., carbon dioxide per therm is a known value), I pared the list down to these three:
- Carbon Dioxide (pounds)
- Crude Oil (barrels)
- Non-productive Time (hours)
Environmental impacts are defined as the change in an aspect between doing nothing and doing something. They are measured as the increase or decrease in each aspect, due to a change in your process.
Click the wheel and spin it to see the final values. They represent the increase in each aspect (CO2, Crude Oil, Non-productive time) of each type of training over no training.
If I had been preparing a business case (instead of creating a marketing wheel) I would have been more precise in my calculations. Still, a relative comparison of face-to-face vs. virtual activities presents a strong argument for using eLearning if your objective is to reduce waste (both environmental and time).
Take it one step at a time
Including footprint analysis in your decision process should make it easier for you to decide how to use eLearning in your business. Every day, more data becomes available, so it will get easier. Don’t worry about including every last aspect and impact into your initial calculations; the Pareto Principle applies!
- List the processes
- List the aspects of those processes
- Measure or calculate the impacts
- How Apple calculates its footprint: http://www.apple.com/environment/
- For ideas to save paper, other natural resources, time, and money in your meetings, seminars, and workshops, check out You’ll Save More Than Trees, Part I: Meetings, Seminars, & Workshops
- For ideas to save paper, other natural resources, time, and money in your everyday practices, check out You’ll Save More Than Trees, Part II: Everyday Practices
- For tips on paperless enrichment of your webinars and eLearning courses, read this post.
*The following posts from The eLearning Coach are a good a good place to start when writing a business case for eLearning, considering costs, intangibles, and other non-environmental criteria.