Log in

The Carbon Footprint of Teaching Online

Using the internet still generates carbon emissions. Are they so much less than meeting in person?

by Hilde Kloeck and Andrew Holmes, 11th February 2021

Not so long ago, in those heady days when dancing in person was still permitted!, we ran an article about the carbon footprint of our Teacher Gatherings.

We had recently had to cancel our planned Gathering in Prague, due to the pandemic, and we calculated we had saved more than 30 tonnes of CO2 equivalent by not meeting in person.

(That’s roughly the amount produced in a whole year by 10 homes using non-renewable energy for heat and power.)

Of course, like so many of us have been doing with our classes and workshops, we didn’t just cancel the Gathering altogether. We moved it online.
So we thought we’d better check our assumption that this was kinder to the environment.

Using the internet still generates carbon emissions. Are they so much less than meeting in person?

A simple google search doesn’t provide easy answers. It’s complicated to measure the environmental impact. So we rolled up our sleeves and did some more detailed research.

We came up with some answers, but we would like to bring in a disclaimer. This is a complex and technical area, and what follows is just a personal summary of what we found.

One scientific study we read traced all the direct and indirect carbon emissions involved in two scenarios: one where people were holding a meeting face to face, and the other via video conferencing. The authors included not only the carbon emissions from the energy use at home, but also the indirect emissions generated by the data storage and transfer, and even a small proportion of the greenhouse gases involved in the making of our laptops and computers. Using their figures, we conclude that offering our Gathering via zoom used as much as 800 times less carbon than if we had met in person!

Of course, our Gatherings are international events, with teachers travelling from far away to attend.

(We are looking at ways to do things differently in future, so we can continue to offer us all the chance to meet in person, but also reduce our impact on the climate.) For any in person workshop the largest impact is likely to be in participants’ travel. We calculate that the total impact of heating and power supplied from non-renewable sources for a weekend workshop in a community hall is perhaps typically 0.14 tonnes of CO2e. If you have 30 participants, each travelling an average total of 100km to attend, the travel emissions will be approximately 0.35 tonnes (assuming some come by car, and some by train). And on those figures, teaching the same event online would have 16 times less impact than meeting in person. Not nearly as much, but still substantial.

A second source we looked at compared the carbon emissions of connecting online with audio only and with three different qualities of video definition. Meeting using the very highest video definition generates a staggering 35 times more carbon than audio only, and almost 5 times more than standard video definition. So even within our work online there are choices to be made.

Of course, we’re not suggesting we should all stop teaching in real rooms with sweaty bodies.. But equally, during this peculiar time perhaps we’ve found some interesting ways to connect with dancers from further afield online. Knowledge is power. And as and when the pandemic recedes, maybe we’ll all think about how to shape our future offerings with at least some awareness of our impact on the planet.

(The sources we consulted can be found here:
Complete life-cycle assessment of the energy CO2 costs of videoconferencing vs face-to-face meetings
The hidden pollution cost of online meetings
Building a greener internet)

While we make every effort to ensure that the information on this site is accurate, we cannot guarantee that everything is up-to-date when you read it. Please check with us, or the ICMTA member concerned, if it is important.

Photographs by Eugene Titov, UnSplash and internal archives. Built with the precious help of The Joy of Membership.

© 2023 International Conscious Movement Teachers Association vzw, Keerbaan 23, Oelegem 2520, Belgium

0543.601.460, RPR Antwerpen

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software