Why isn’t our course “green friendly”?

Here’s a quick aside.

An important question I sometimes get from students is:

“Why isn’t our course ‘green friendly’?”

By “green friendly” courses or tutorials, we usually mean those that do not have any or many print materials (such as textbooks, handouts), where the course materials are hosted online, and where assessments are submitted online. In some cases, it can also include courses that only use single-spacing and double-sided printing, or other paper-reducing practices.

With human-caused climate change spiraling further out of control, with global deforestation and inadequate recycling practices, many of us are inclined to think that “going green” is the morally right thing to do when possible. This is relevant to most courses I teach in applied ethics—not only in terms of aiming at more ethical teaching practices, but also in content. For example, in bioethics, it is valuable to attend to how environmental changes can directly impact health outcomes, because this may help us attend to how our environmental practices are also bioethical practices in their own ways. So I tend to agree with the general claim that we should aim to “go green” where possible.

That is to say:

I am generally and genuinely interested in working to protect the environment and limit my environmental impact.

But also:

In my role as a Course Instructor (and in other teaching roles such as Teaching Assistant), I am also critically interested in making sure our learning community is as inclusive and accessible as we can make it.

And too often, “green” initiatives are not as inclusive as we might believe. In particular, they tend to exclude many people who are disabled and/or poor, among others. When green initiatives focus on individual or group actions, we can sometimes ignore the different social realities and personal contexts where actions happen, and also how those contexts can impact who is able to participate in those actions and how.

Not everyone has access, regular access, or equal access to technology and digital materials. Some people do not have computers or smart phones, or they might share them with others, and sometimes our electronics get lost/broken/stolen. Not everyone can afford home internet and may be more dependent on access to wifi on campus or in public places. Not everyone can easily read from a screen, or from a screen for extended periods of time. Libraries and places where people can access computers have limited hours of operation, and may be overbooked or physically inaccessible. This, among other barriers (eg. lack of time or other resources needed to access accommodations due to job or guardian responsibilities) can all inhibit someone’s ability to access online materials, to do readings, to submit assignments, etc.

And on the other hand: not everyone can afford textbooks, can easily read print materials, read print materials for an extended period of time, or read handouts that are only single-spaced. Sometimes our handouts, books, and notes get lost/unreadable/stolen. Sometimes we can’t afford to print things we find online. Books and binders can be too heavy to carry, and not everyone can physically take handwritten notes. If we choose only one or the other, technology or print, we will usually exclude certain people.

My goal for our time together will be to provide multiple paths to accessing our handouts, blog posts and updates (like this one), and any other material I post or share online or in course meetings. This means I will be willing to print anything I post online if you need, and that I will post anything I handout in person online as well.

If you need anything in alternative formats (such as if any resources can’t be read by your screen-readers for some reason, or you need audio, or larger print handouts) let me know, and I will do the best I can to make sure everything is available to you.

At the same time, I will strive to limit printing to cases where it is needed, and I will avoid printing longer documents like readings unless requested (and I genuinely welcome those requests!). I will aim to print on recycled paper when I have access to it. I will avoid uploading .pdf files and images which can take more energy to store and load unless requested (we often forget that electronics require power, as does hosting and accessing the internet, and that this is a form of energy consumption too).

So our course/tutorial will generally not be seeking “green” certification from the University. This doesn’t mean it isn’t a concern or focus. Rather, it is part of a broader number of considerations that I keep in mind as I plan courses and course materials.


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