Tag: ecological footprint

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Calculating the Footprint of Your Training

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What footprint are you leaving on Earth?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.

1. Processes

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.

2. Aspects

 

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)

3. Impacts

links to an electronic wheel to "calculate" the ecological footprint of training and working

Click & Spin

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!

  1. List the processes
  2. List the aspects of those processes
  3. Measure or calculate the impacts

Additional Reading

*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.

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Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Greening your business with eLearning

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Green Your Business with eLearningOne of my lifelong passions has been the sustainability of the planet.  Yes, LIFELONG, and I was born in 1959!  My parents subscribed to the Rodale Press publication Organic Gardening when I was a toddler.  We read food labels in the 1960s, we grew most of our own food (vegetable and animal); none of it had systemic pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, or artificial coloring.  (The one exception to this was the small jar of Maraschino cherries my mother let me hide at the back of a shelf in the pantry.  So far, I have no apparent side effects from the Red Dye #40.)  There was quite a long period of time where the dirtiest four-letter word I knew was S-A-L-T.

Luckily, I grew up in a very small and rural town, where everyone was odd and there was no “normal” to be compared against.  Sure, we may have been the only family around that didn’t eat Hamburger Helper or Cool Whip, but there weren’t enough of those who did to poke fun of us.  We intentionally composted our kitchen scraps, but I imagine a lot of folks threw their garbage out in the back field for the sake of convenience.  Maybe they knew way back then that landfills would become a problem…

I’ve walked the fine line between re-using and hoarding my whole life.  My mother and I still do battle over just how many cardboard boxes she should keep on hand.  She can’t stand to throw out perfectly good cardboard!  (She doesn’t actually throw it away; she burns it in the furnace that heats her house each winter).  About two years ago, we had an epiphany about our 50 years of reduce-reuse-recycle behavior:  We’re almost  mainstream! In fact, we’re cutting edge “cool”.  (Thanks to another Rodale Press publication, An Inconvenient Truth.)  We already have reusable grocery bags (for about 20 years now), we already turn off the lights (obsessively), we could go for days and weeks without driving, and we delight in catching rain water to save for a drier day.

The one thing I have done for the environment that Mom hasn’t had a chance to do is what I get more and more excited about each day: e-Learning.  In 2005 I began promoting it as “Green Learning”.  I was met with vacuous stares from my friends and colleagues.  In 2007 I created this super cool eWheel; it represents the footprint (mostly carbon) savings of eLearning over the corporate training I did for 20 years.  Now, I’m developing a website dedicated to this very topic.  It will show how I derived the values, what I learned in the process, and things that you might want to consider when implementing “green” training and travel policies for your businesses.

eLearning is not a way to reduce personal interaction or teach on the cheap.  It’s about making the world a better, cleaner, and more knowledgeable place for everyone to live.  Come on, jump on the bandwagon with me!

Earth Day 2011 update: My site dedicated to Green Training is LeaveALegacyNotAFootprint is up and running, if not totally complete.  Currently, there are several WordPress plugins dedicated to sustainable living and business practices, links to sites that will help you with your own business, and steps for calculating your own footprint.  Check it out!

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