Green Education versus Educational Technologies

In 2030, ecological disasters have become the new normal and young adults, already experienced environmental activists have urged various governments and institutions, with ardent support from environmentalists, to implement urgent and concrete sustainable actions through social movements (Straume, 2020).  Green education is the new standard with students and academic experts being dynamically involved in the elaboration of sustainable initiatives as part of their programs.   Between infrastructure enhancements with mandatory recycling and energy efficiencies to reduce carbon emission, students and staff are collaborating on social environment enterprises, “eco-entrepreneurial investment” (Educause, 2021, p. 33) and environmental partnerships such as non-governmental organizations (NGO) to support the green education mission (Educause, 2021).

Educational institutions are offering online and hybrid learning as a permanent green education solution while meeting the needs of evacuated students from climatic disasters.  Lessons learned from the 2020 pandemic showed that online education was a doable solution (Educause, 2021) during stay-at-home orders.  Moreover, online learning led to less commuting of students and educators as well as lower power usages from large school properties (Educause, 2021). This was further reinforced by lower environmental studies such as the UK based SusTeach and the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) (Lane et al., 2014).

However, we may wonder if green education is a regretful response to tackle urgent environment needs from a sentiment of being part of the “perfect crime where everybody is guilty, yet no one has a motive” (Straume, 2020, p. 5).  Moreover, green education may be culpable of not be as green as it should be with the technological impact not accurately factored in the green equation.

To illustrate this point, Selwyn (2021) described the “stark contrast to rhetoric of ‘greening’ the operation of education through increased technology use, advocates of educational technology need to face the fact that ‘consumer electronics and other digital technologies are made in ways that cause some of the worst environmental disasters of our time” (p. 502).  Already in 2007, it was reported that 2 per cent of global CO2 emissions were from the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector (Caird et al., 2015).  In 2016, 44.7 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) to which only 20% were known to be collected, were presumably dumped in landfills with toxins such as arsenic that leaked into the atmosphere, potentially causing not only serious environmental but also health issues (Franquesa & Navarro, 2018).  Also, the production of ICT products has been depleting the planet of precious minerals and metals (Selwyn, 2021).

Additionally, there is tension between environmental goals and the production of new technologies that consumers crave.  Resolving that tension may be detrimental for the ICT economy “unless some productive harmony can be designed between economic and environmental/social sustainability aims” (Hazas et al., 2015, “IX. Are there limits”, para. 1). The trade-off on both sides is still a debate in 2030 and the tipping point may be a drastic shift in consumers’ environmental values (Straume, 2020) triggered by continuously alarming warnings from environmental activists on the global ICT impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

That shift in consumer perspective, along with predictable social phenomena such as younger social environmentalists boycotting unsustainable technologies, may lead to a high demand for innovative greener electronics and technologies.  However, the green product trend may be counter-intuitive and create an excessive amount of e-waste of unwanted and unsustainable technologies (Yashvantini, 2019) thus causing further additional environmental risk.

Selwyn (2021) raised my ‘green’ flag when he wrote “there is nothing ‘virtual’ or ‘artificial’ about digital technology” (p. 502) when referring to the Internet as another environmental risk.  As a reference, the use of Internet contributed to an estimated 1.1 and 1.9 per cent of the global energy consumption annually in the early 2010’s (Caird et al., 2015).  With the increased of online education, that percentage is even greater and certainly, frightening.

Green education has its promise to become a standard for carbon footprints only if the efficient use of digital educational technologies are considered in educational institutions green mission.  Some of the literatures have introduced promising and intriguing solutions to mitigate ecological impact from the digital world.

For instance, Hazas et al. (2015) recommended an educational approach of the environmental impact of ‘non-negotiable’ technologies we are highly reliant on (e.g., mobile, laptop, etc.) to better understand the daily data demand in relation to energy consumption and accordingly, influencing the adoption of climate smart digital practices.

Macgilchrist et al. (2020), on the other hand, suggested an ambitious scenario in which “institutions are spaces for exploring and experimenting with new ways of living” (p. 86) based on a collective, hands-on, and democratic approach to address the impact of climate change.  Some examples of a low-carbon initiatives include the production of environmentally “respectful technology design” (p. 84) and “open source technologies” (p. 86) (e.g., Linux, Mozilla Firefox, etc.) as a collective participation of the use of environmentally desirable technologies for the purpose of “degrowth societies” (p. 86).  Vetter (2018) referred to degrowth as a way of drastically decreasing capitalism and technological innovation of the ICT industry for sustainability.  The author inferred to the objective of degrowth as “not to make an elephant leaner, but to turn an elephant into a snail” (para. 1).  In a consumer-driven economy that drives technological innovation, it was an impossible mission to attain by 2030, although I believe it would have been the most vital ecological cure.

And finally, a proposed model from Franquesa & Navarro (2018) addressed the challenge of short-term ownership of electronics and digital devices by extending their lifespan through a “circular economy” (para. 4) or cooperativism.  It does so by either repairing, updating, refurbishing, and reusing them.  With additional public and government funding, organizations such as the Green Electronics Council (GEC) for sustainable IT products (Yashvantini, 2019) and eReuse.org with its focus on the “circular life of digital devices” (Franquesa & Navarro, 2018, para. 15) has become institutional standards in 2030.

The relationship between green education and the use of digital technologies is still an ongoing deliberation in 2030.  There are several scenarios still being considered: fostering eco-technologies will predictably increase e-waste; a tech-crave consumer-driven economy is still encouraging technological innovation; constant pressure from climate activism to do more with less carbon footprint.  Turning an elephant into a snail will demand a drastic global commitment, however, I am confident that educational institutions will play an integral part in this commitment because our younger generation will demand it, which in return will create opportunities in pedagogical design, research, partnerships, and the future of work.

References

Caird, S., Lane, A., Swithenby, E., Roy, R., & Potter, S. (2015). Design of higher education teaching models and carbon impacts. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 16(1), 96-111. https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1108/IJSHE-06-2013-0065

Educause (April 26, 2021).  Educause Horizon report.  Educause Publications, 32-36. https://library.educause.edu/-/media/files/library/2021/4/2021hrteachinglearning.pdf?la=en&hash=C9DEC12398593F297CC634409DFF4B8C5A60B36E

Franquesa, D., & Navarro, L.  (2018). Devices as a Commons: limits to premature recycling.  Proceeding of Fourth Workshop on Computer withing Limits (Limits’18), 1-10. https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1145/3232617.3232624

Hazas, M., Clear, A., Friday, A., Knowles, B., Lord, C., & Bates, O. (2015). Exploring (un)sustainable growth of digital technologies in the home. EnviroInfo and ICT for Sustainabilityhttp://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/42549/1/Exploring%20(un)sustainable%20growth%20of%20digital%20technologies%20in%20the%20home.pdf

Lane, A., Caird, S., & Weller, M. (2014). The potential social, economic and environmental benefits of MOOCs: operational and historical comparisons with a massive ‘closed online’ course. Open Praxis, 6(2), 115-123.  https://www.learntechlib.org/p/148134/.

Macgilchrist, F., Allert, H., & Bruch, A. (2020). Students and society in the 2020s. Three future ‘histories’ of education and technology. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(1), 76-89. https://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/doi/full/10.1080/17439884.2019.1656235

Selwyn, N. (2021). Ed-Tech Within Limits: Anticipating educational technology in times of environmental crisis. E-Learning and Digital Media, 18(5), 496-510.  https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1177/20427530211022951

Straume, I. S. (2020).  What may we hope for? Education in times of climate change. Constellationshttps://philarchive.org/archive/STRWMW

Vetter, A. (2018). The Matrix of Convivial Technology – Assessing technologies for degrowth. Journal of Cleaner Production, 197(2), 1778-1786.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.02.195

Yashvantini, M. (2019).  Green Electronics – Fostering Eco-Technovation. Elsevier. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3315165