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As humans’ negative impact on the environment becomes increasingly apparent, Americans are beginning to take action. According to recent studies conducted by the Pew Research Center, vast majorities of those surveyed indicated that they took steps in their daily lives to reduce food waste, reliance on single-use plastics, and water consumption. 

As you consider your options for education, it’s important to note that your choice of where to earn your degree has an impact on not just your lifestyle, but on your carbon footprint. If you’re interested in different ways to reduce your footprint and have a lower impact on the environment, an online degree may be the perfect fit. 

In this article, we’ll explore the advantages of online learning and its net-positive impact on the environment. 

Benefits of Online Learning for the Environment

Reducing Your Transportation-Based Impact

Your commute to work or school does more than stress you out — it’s also part of one of the biggest contributors to climate change and environmental degradation. Transportation, as a whole, accounts for a third of all greenhouse gases produced in the United States. For every gallon of gasoline burned, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide enter the atmosphere. Nationally, that translates to 5.5 tons of carbon dioxide per motorist per year

Online degrees allow you to further your education from anywhere. This is especially beneficial for people who work full-time, live in rural areas far from major educational institutions, are responsible for young children, or move frequently for work or military duty. Online learning removes the necessity of driving to campus, reducing your carbon footprint with each car trip not taken. 

Avoiding Traditional Campus Energy Usage

Instead of sitting in a cavernous lecture hall that must be heated and illuminated for every class, you’ll take classes from the comfort of your own home — which equates to a significantly smaller carbon footprint than a major university campus. Typical higher-education buildings of around 55,000 square feet consume the equivalent of $100,000 worth of energy per year, with lighting, ventilation, and cooling making up the lion’s share of energy usage. This is a significant footprint, and many older campuses are ill-equipped to make necessary, energy-saving upgrades. 

Saving Trees and Paper From Entering Landfills

Lastly, your paper consumption will decrease significantly. About a third of the paper we use in the United States comes directly from trees (the rest comes from recycled paper and scraps). In order to supply every office and school in the country, between 55 and 100 million trees are cut down every year. 

Even worse, only about 53 percent of the paper we use is recycled. That means that nearly half of our paper — the vast majority of it recyclable — ends up in landfills. Your choice to pursue an online degree greatly reduces your personal paper usage and waste. Consider all of the learning aids, worksheets, and instruction sheets that teachers pass out in a typical classroom setting — everything you need to succeed in your pursuit of an online degree is available digitally, removing superfluous paper and waste. 
In addition to other means of reducing your impact, like purchasing fruits and vegetables in-season, walking instead of driving, and reducing your meat consumption, earning your degree online can be part of a well-rounded approach to a reduced footprint.