Versteijlen, Salgado, Groesbeek and Counotte (2017) looked at if online education reduces carbon emissions. It may seem obvious that if students don't have to travel to a campus and don't use a classroom, then their energy use and so carbon emissions would be reduced. But as the researchers point out, energy and emissions at home may increase. Also if students still have to attend a few courses a long way from campus (in the extreme case international students fly from country to country) this can offset daily travel savings. However the analysis concluded that student travel was between 40 and 90 percent of all emissions for Dutch universities.
The authors point out that online education is not the only alternative and students can be encouraged to use public transport. Surprisingly, despite it reputation for the use of public transport, emissions from student travel in the Netherlands were much the same as the US. Another point made was that staff need training in how to provide development of online education.
Australian National University is now accepting enrollments in my course "ICT Sustainability" (COMP7310), commencing in February. Already I have a small segment to the course on "Are Bitcoin and Blockchain Bad for the Environment?". But I though I should have a look at what else has happened in the field since the course was last run.This is the first paper I looked at. More to come.
Versteijlen, M., Salgado, F. P., Groesbeek, M. J., & Counotte, A. (2017). Pros and cons of online education as a measure to reduce carbon emissions in higher education in the Netherlands. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 28, 80-89. URL https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2017.09.004