How can edtech help steer us towards sustainability goals?

An insightful discussion on the linear vs circular lifecycle, environmentally-conscious edtech procurement and use, COVID-19’s impact on sustainability, and more…

The panel:

  • Chris Priest, professor of sustainability and computer systems – University of Bristol
  • Vasiliki Kioupi, assistant teaching fellow and researcher – Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London 
  • Kevin O’Reilly, Right to Repair advocate – United States Public Interest Research Group

Host: Genna Ash-Brown

It’s all too easy to overlook the sustainability agenda in the midst of a chaotic pandemic. But COVID-19 aside, climate change remains the defining issue of our time, and with the accelerated digital transition that has transformed the education system this past year, it’s up to us as a sector to ensure that we do not neglect the global green agenda. 

The UK’s goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, along with its status as the first major economy to legislate to
do so in 2019, is a definite plus. But how can edtech and education leaders work together towards a  better, brighter and greener future, and how do we address the urgency of the situation overall?

On technology's contribution to the climate crisis:

“If we were to extend the lifespan of our laptops by just one year, from four and a half years to five and a half years, that would have the carbon-cutting equivalent of taking 870,000 cars off the road” – Kevin O’Reilly

“Nowadays our equipment at home is quite efficient, and as a result of that, it’s mainly the manufacturing – so, the mining [and so on] – where the emissions come from” – Professor Chris Priest

On edtech and sustainability:

“…I would say that, in general, I think the [sustainability] message hasn’t yet reached the software services and companies. If they don’t get ready and don’t prepare for what’s going to come at them from their customers, then they will be in trouble” – Professor Chris Priest

On raising awareness of sustainable edtech alternatives:

“Edtech companies – they’re not doing enough to highlight that, actually, their products and services or their operations are achieving sustainability targets, or even social responsibility targets” – Vasiliki Kioupi

On embedding sustainability principles into teaching practice:

“On one hand, it’s important to actually develop the knowledge of how the world works, or the problems we’re facing. But it’s not only that; embedding sustainability principles into teaching is actually using different pedagogies and different assessment methods, and this can lead not only to those prepared citizens, but actually to independent thinkers, creative problem solvers, who can actually use innovation to manage to tackle all the serious problems we’re facing right now” – Vasiliki Kioupi

Advice on environmentally-conscious edtech procurement and use:

“Ask questions during your procurement process. The main thing I would say is that, in terms of procurement, find out where they’re hosting – are they hosting from a renewable perspective? Are there other hosting servers that are powered by renewable energy?” – Professor Chris Priest

On sustainability factors edtech developers should consider:

“A single software engineer can make savings equivalent to many cars, or airports, if they write code that’s efficient, and more importantly, meets the needs of their customers effectively” – Professor Chris Priest

On the sector's reluctance to upgrade devices rather than buy new:

“There’s always a certain level of kind of sticker shock or excitement about, ‘look at this new technology that we have’, and I think that educational institutions have to compete on this level. It’s a way to attract new students, it’s a way to attract the best professors – to say, ‘we have state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line kind of facilities. And I think that’s something that we battle with across the way” – Kevin O’Reilly

On the benefits of refurbished tech:

“Across the board, we see as much as 30–50% [savings] sometimes when buying refurbished rather than buying new” – Kevin O’Reilly

On driving a cultural shift towards a more circular economy:

“We need to find aways to prioritise repair, refurbishment and reuse over the production of new…Reduce, reuse recycle – I see that as a hierarchy where reduce is the first and highest priority of what we need to do. Then, when that doesn’t work, we can reuse. And recycle should be, really, the last resort because recycling isn’t always effective – especially with e-waste” – Kevin O’Reilly

On the student perception of sustainability:

“I would say that they’re aware but not necessarily well-informed…I think it’s really worth teachers getting clued up on this, and sharing what they do with their students” – Professor Chris Priest

On how COVID-19 has impacted the sustainability agenda:

“The COVID crisis itself is actually an important part of the sustainability of societies because it can actually highlight the global interconnectedness, it can highlight the impact on the wildlife trade, the impact of the expansion of human settlements into natural areas, it can highlight, also, the social learning that resulted from it – for example, people who changed their behaviour very quickly to adapt to the global crisis. Some people think this behavioural change can be motivated in other crises – like climate change, for example” – Vasiliki Kioupi

On the Right to Repair campaign:

“Across industries – whether it’s technology like we’ve been talking about, or farmers’ tractors, or household appliances like washing machines, even ventilators and other medical equipment – manufacturers restrict access to the parts, tools and information that we need to fix their stuff when it breaks. What Right to Repair is all about is making sure that both consumers and independent repair shops have access to those tools so that we can fix stuff when it breaks, so that we can make our things last and do what we need” – Kevin O’Reilly

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