Toward increased environmental sustainability: Technological innovation in action



Technological innovation is providing sustainable alternatives in areas that have traditionally been high consumers of energy. Wind energy and photovoltaic cell technology get a lot of attention—deservedly. But many technologies that are praised for streamlining communication and creating greater efficiencies are equally deserving of attention for their role in reducing high levels of energy consumption. And what\’s good for the environment is shaping up to be cost effective as well. The impact of technological innovation is making telecommuting popular again for many of the same reasons that online education has become so attractive.

Telecommuting 2.0

Telecommuting is experiencing a big comeback. For many companies, the ready availability of high-speed Internet connections and the video-conferencing capabilities of Skype call into question the need to have some employees come into work at all. This can have a huge impact on reducing the environmental footprint of companies as well as for their employees. The most immediate and evident impact is the reduced gasoline consumption necessary for daily commuting. And driving more fuel-efficient vehicles is a huge step away from some of the gas-guzzling cars of the past.

But avoiding the daily commute altogether is a paradigm shift toward sustainability through adopting innovative new practices and incorporating them into habits. Companies that are avid participants in the latest wave of the new telecommuting trend are capitalizing in other ways too. If large numbers of employees can telecommute, the need for large office buildings declines dramatically. This represents the possibility of dramatically reducing heating and cooling costs. In addition to greatly trimming a company\’s expenses, it\’s a logical way to reduce carbon footprints for environmentally sensible businesses.

Technology in the classroom

The impact of telecommuting on reducing carbon footprints for companies provides an intriguing possibility for education as well. Online universities have experienced a lot of growth because of their flexibility as well as a telecommuter-like approach to education. This approach to taking classes from home is becoming a good option because of the same advances in technology that benefit telecommuting. Skype may not be a brand new technology, but its inherent usefulness has dramatically changed the education experience. Many classes now use Skype\’s videoconferencing capabilities to duplicate the traditional lecture experience. And this isn\’t an education phenomenon that\’s confined to undergraduate and graduate education.

Skype never gained traction in public education except for teachers who used it in an informal way for personal use. But \”Skype in the Classroom\” is Skype\’s first big push into the education space, and it\’s looking like a big hit. With 4,000 teachers signed up when it came out of beta in March, it\’s now up to more than 15,000 teachers. The implications of Skype entering primary and secondary education are significant. The obvious immediate benefits will be teacher-to-teacher collaboration and a greater ability for trading teaching tips and lesson plans. But a longer-term benefit may exist in Skype\’s entrance into the education space at precisely the moment that online education for elementary, junior high and high school students is increasing in popularity. The potential for more students to benefit from an online school option would result in far fewer gas-guzzling busses on the road and fewer large buildings to cool and heat as well. But the extent to which technological innovation is allowed to play a significant role in shaping environmentally sustainable practices may determine whether we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint in the near future.