Going Green: Are You Ready?

Going Green: Are You Ready?


When I started an electric bicycle business three years ago and sold my car, my life changed dramatically. Once I became aware of my environmental impact, I couldn’t turn back. How could I continue printing the 500-page Adobe PDF document when this action generates 15 pounds of CO2, 50 gallons of waste water, and five pounds of solid waste when there was a better alternative? Or how could I continue commuting 30 miles alone when I knew it generates six tons of CO2 annually that can easily be dropped in half by simply carpooling?

The knowledge about the impact of every choice we make is available in today’s instant-access world.

“We don’t have an excuse anymore because we know better now,” says Rob Gillespie, director of Energy Efficiency & Engineering, Center for Sustainable Energy California.

Implementing sustainable strategies impacts more than the environment and profits, it also impacts people with significant consequences for organizations. A study by Monster TRAK showed that 92 percent of young professionals would prefer working for a company that is environmentally friendly. Another study by Kenexa Research Institute shows that organizations that support the environment have a significant influence on employees’ engagement levels and views of senior management.

The shift of organizations to go beyond merely looking at profits, but also at the people and the planet — the so-called “triple bottom line”— offers an unprecedented opportunity for everyone to make the right choices. 

As e-learning professionals, we are in a unique position to reduce the carbon footprint of our entire organizations. How green is our learning? 


Although classroom training declined from 76 percent in 2001 to 65 percent in 2006 according to ASTD’s 2007 State of the Industry Report, it still makes up the majority of learning hours delivered and has the biggest impact on the environment in the areas of travel, facilities and materials.

Travel is typically the biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) contributor. Using www.atmosfair.com , you can, for example, quickly find out that a 5,000-mile roundtrip flight from San Diego to New York generates 2.2 tons of CO2. 

Facilities include training rooms as well as the accommodation of learners. To determine your classroom footprint, use the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Building Technology Program online simulator at http://designadvisor.mit.edu/design/ that calculates total energy consumption and CO2 emissions. A classroom that holds about 20 learners and is occupied during the week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. would generate one ton of CO2 per year in San Diego and 1.7 tons in New York, mainly due to cooling and heating. According to Greenlodge.org, the average hotel stay generates 44 pounds per person per night.

Materials typically consist of printed manuals or handouts. A course with 20 participants where each receives a binder with 100 sheets results in the use of 2,000 sheets or four reams of paper, which equals a quarter of an average tree. This single course would generate 60 pounds of CO2. Check your paper usage impact at http://www.edf.org/papercalculator. 

If that course (cited in the accompanying table) can be moved online, it not only saves about 1200 tons of CO2, but also more than $1 million in travel cost alone. This is well worth an increase of the learning budget. Calculate your learning footprint on http://learningfootprint.com to see your impact.


E-learning is inherently green. By moving a course online, you instantly cut the biggest contributor to your footprint: travel.

If e-learning is still new in your organization, start with small steps by integrating rapid e-learning authoring as part of an informal learning strategy. You can use programming-free tools like Adobe Captivate software to create any content from simple software demos to sophisticated branched scenarios or Adobe Presenter software to quickly get informational presentations into an online format. 

A more gradual approach is blended learning, which entails moving the majority of content online and using shortened instructor-led sessions. Or consider moving the classroom instruction online using virtual classrooms like Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro or virtual worlds. The French banking group Crédit Agricole, the eighth-largest bank in the world, is saving $200,000 to $300,000 in travel expenses this year alone in a pilot program where training sessions are held in Second Life.

“Tailored blended-learning saved one organization $2.8 million in travel and accommodation costs by cutting travel time for a 14-week program from 28 to 7 days,” according to ASTD’s 2007 State of the Industry Report.

If you do have to conduct classroom based, instructor-led training, these tips might help reduce your footprint:

>> Offer public transit passes or support carpooling and hybrid car rental (reserve via Planet Tran, which is focused on environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles).

>> Offer carbon offsetting for each traveler.

>> Facilitate courses in centrally located areas and shorten travel distances.

>> Choose energy-efficient and long-lasting hardware like the new CherryPal— a desktop that runs on only two watts, lasts 10 years and costs only $249.

>> Find green accommodations via sites like www.greenlodge.org.

>> Start late Monday morning to reduce the number of hotel nights, and require double-occupancy.

>> Choose green training facilities or upgrade your own.

>> Choose zero-footprint catering that uses local produce and reusable dishware.

>> Avoid printing and shipping. If you need to print, print locally on 80 to 100 percent recycled paper.

>> Offer recycling, and educate participants what can/cannot be recycled. This differs based on your city’s waste management.

>> Purchase recycled and environmentally preferable products. Stopwaste.org is a good starting point.

>> Avoid plastics such as extra pens, training binders, name badges, etc. 

The actual training is one aspect of your footprint. Your own workflows and departmental habits are another. Going Green are you Ready?

One way to integrate sustainability into your workflow is to reduce travel during the authoring process. If you are currently traveling during the analysis and development phase, consider some online approaches. You can start today using free services such as Adobe Connect Now, which includes video conferencing with screen sharing and whiteboards.


The U.S. only has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet uses 28 percent of its paper. The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper every year.

One great example for print reduction and streamlined processes is the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS), the state’s largest government agency. Case managers, administrators and citizens alike are working smarter and faster by shifting from paper to automated forms processes with Adobe Live Cycle solutions, which saves the DHS $1.2 million annually in printing and distribution costs and $6 million annually in administrative cost.

Here are some ways to save paper: 

>> Use an online collaboration, review and versioning process. Free online services like Adobe Buzzword enable you to work together on documents and easily roll back to previous edits.

>> Avoid printing documents that have to be signed, and use digital signatures.

>> Design your content so that printing is not necessary and content can easily be accessed online. 

If you do have to print, follow these guidelines: 

>> Change to double-sided printing.

>> Remove cover pages, reduce margins, and use single line spacing.

>> Move to lower-quality print standard like draft.

>> Print on recycled paper, which uses 60 to 70 percent less energy to produce.

>> Read professional magazines like Elearning! online.

>> If you need books, check out online bookstores or auctions to purchase used copies.

>> Choose energy-efficient hardware.

>> Reduce the number of printers in your office and remove faxes (switch to eFax or Fax.com).

>> Remove duplicate files and reduce the number of storage servers.


>> Track costs and environmental impact of your department, and publish articles yourself or present at conferences.

>> Require green practices from your suppliers or contractors.

>> Become the model in your organization by implementing the strategies outlined in this article.

>> Consider developing an online learning module to train employees on more efficient paper use and printing practices. Every pound of waste generated by an office worker impacts the bottom line of your organization.


As a learning professional, you understand how to change behaviors. You can utilize these skills and experiences for your green initiatives. Any training you develop likely touches thousands of learners, and providing a small fact sometimes can make a big difference in someone’s decision.

Encourage sustainable choices among learners by: 

>> Designing your content in a reusable and easily accessible way, so printing is not necessary. Instead of a print button, include a bookmark button.

>> Providing links to online resources and online books or encouraging the purchase of used books.

>> Including “Please recycle” messages on each printed document.

>> Letting learners know about the environmental impact of printing or traveling.

— Silke Fleischer is senior product marketing manager at Adobe Systems Inc. and coowner of ATIV Solutions LLC. The author has spoken on e-learning-related topics at numerous industry events and is an active supporter of bicycle commuting and sustainable life style. For more information and additional tips, read the full whitepaper on http://www.adobe.com/elearning.

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