6 Environmental Benefits of Online Learning That Will Blow Your Mind

Environmental Benefits of Online Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how the world thinks about online learning.

While there are pros and cons to virtual learning, the environmental benefits of online learning are well documented and should be considered as our educational landscape evolves.

Here are 6 remarkable environmental benefits of online learning. We also include a special offer to save on school and office supplies!

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6 Environmental Benefits of Online Learning

1. Reduces Pollution and Emissions from Transportation

According to Bloomberg, nearly 60% of students take a car to school. That daily driving results in heightened levels of pollution and emissions. 

Environmental Benefits of Online Learning - Reduces Emissions

Studies have shown that virtual learning can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 148 pounds each semester! 

Environmental Benefits of Online Learning_

Online learning is a win-win. It reduces transportation, saves time, and helps the planet.

2. Reduces Energy Consumption

Second, online learning reduces the energy consumption to power large school buildings.

Schools use a lot of electricity for technology, lighting, and heating/cooling systems. Typical higher-education buildings consume about $100,000 worth of energy per year

Online Learning - School Building

Again, the environmental benefits of online learning are often two-fold. Reducing energy consumption can save the school district money while decreasing its carbon footprint.

3. Decreases Paper Waste and Saves Trees

Perhaps the biggest environmental benefit of online learning is the decrease in paper waste.

Did you know that a typical school uses about 2,000 sheets of paper per day? That is about one tree per week!

Paper Waste

Online learning primarily relies on digital documents. Textbooks and assignments are completed electronically. As a result, less paper is used, and more trees are saved.

4. Saves Natural Resources Such as Water

Schools also require a lot of water.

According to the EPA, the largest uses of water in educational facilities are restrooms, landscaping, heating/cooling, and cafeteria kitchens.

Water Use
Water Consumption
Of course, students will still use water while learning remotely. But hopefully it is a lot less than a commercial building such as a school or university.

5. Reduces Plastic Waste

Similarly, reducing plastic waste is a significant benefit of online learning.

A lot of plastic waste is generated from the cafeteria during mealtimes.

Online Learning - Plastic Waste

Oklahoma State University reports that one school-aged student who uses disposable lunch products creates 67 pounds of waste during a nine-month school year.

Although students still eat at home, one of the benefits to online learning is that it could reduce the need for disposable lunch products such as plastic bags and plastic water bottles.

6. Reduces Food Waste

Lastly, online learning can reduce a large amount of food waste.

It is estimated that U.S. schools waste 530,000 tons of food per year. Studies show that menu planning contributes to food waste in schools.

For instance, cafeterias must purchase certain types of food, such as baked beans or peas, to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines. However, the children don’t eat the food, so it is thrown away.

Source: Penn State University 

This is not only a humanitarian issue, but also an environmental issue. Wasting food means wasting the resources that were used to prepare the food.

Wasted food also produces greenhouse gases. When food is thrown in the landfill it produces methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is stronger than carbon dioxide.

Online learning can reduce food waste by reducing the use of cafeterias. 

Potential Downsides to Online Learning

However, there are potential downsides to reducing food waste via online learning.

Many households rely on free or reduced school lunch to combat food insecurity. Virtual schools would need to find a scalable and eco-friendly way to deliver meals to their students.


Although online learning cannot completely replace in-person education, using it as a supplement to traditional learning can dramatically reduce our environmental impact.

What are your thoughts on the environmental benefits of online learning? Let us know in the comments section below!

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About the Author Jess Nielsen

Jess has spent years travelling the world full-time. Nothing else comes close to the reaches of this emotive activity...

Leave a Comment:

Mia Stewart says July 11, 2019

I like how the article explains that doing online school is beneficial as it allows people to learn 25-60% faster as it allows for a more personalized learning experience. Recently, I have been thinking about going back to school to get my degree but because of my two kids, I don’t really have time to go learn in a classroom. Maybe doing school online would allow me to learn faster at home so I can have more time with my kids.

Charlotte Fleet says January 27, 2023

I liked learning that online learning reduces paper waste because it relies primarily on digital documents. I work at a school, and they are asking for suggestions on how to make it a more environmentally friendly atmosphere. I’ll suggest that they switch to a curriculum that offers online classes to save paper.

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