It’s no secret that sustainability is more important than ever before, but in reality, the idea of living within our means while preserving our natural resources and safeguarding the future is not really a new concept. So as L&D professionals, what can we do to help? By embracing virtual delivery, the learning and development (L&D) industry has seen its environmental footprint decrease, but is this enough? Can it be sustained? And should practitioners adopt new and emerging technologies to achieve fully sustainable learning practices?
Aligning Business and L&D strategies
According to McKinsey’s ACADEMIES framework an effective L&D function has 9 components, the first of which is to ‘align with business strategy.’ With an increasing number of business strategies including an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) element, it’s critical for L&D functions to reflect these sustainability goals within their own L&D strategies. Virtual training maintains the focus on impact, engagement and learning transfer whilst reducing the financial, business, and environmental impact of training. Here at VTT, we’re proud to promote sustainable practices within the L&D community and we’re passionate about the role virtual delivery can play in helping companies realise a more sustainable future.
Cleaner, clearer benefits
The immediate benefit of virtual learning and remote working is obvious. When we read about research conducted by agencies such as the WWF we can see that the morning commute to work alone is thought to contribute over 25% of the total transportation greenhouse gas emissions. With participants able to work and learn from home, the need to commute, at significant cost to precious fossil fuels, is alleviated. With less time invested in travelling, additional time, energy, and money can be invested in finding cost-effective and sustainable solutions for running the business. The benefits of virtual working were clearly demonstrated during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw a reduction of carbon emissions by up to 25% across a 30-day period.
In the post-lockdown world, the workforce, for the most part, has returned to “the office” whether full time or in a hybrid working capacity. With the return of rush-hour traffic, we are once again reminded of the bleak future that awaits us if we continue to consume the remaining reserves of coal, oil and gas. Previously, the law stipulated a substantive change in behaviour. It’s now time for us to change our attitudes and approaches if we hope to reap the environmental rewards that remote work can offer.
An alternative reality
In order to learn from the lessons of the past and strive for a more sustainable future, it is time to explore how L&D can leverage technological advances to entice the masses back into virtual environments. Soon we will wake up to a new world with the emergence of the Metaverse, which is set to revolutionise how we work. Just as the internet changed the world of work, this new and developing technology will provide L&D with exciting new opportunities. Being able to interact with others in real-time, regardless of their location, in fully immersive and realised virtual environments, provides greater opportunities to recreate the unique dynamics of face-to-face communication.
With the likes of big-hitting tech giants such as Microsoft describing the Metaverse as “a new version – or a new vision – of the internet,” we may be on the verge of a cultural shift, one which could then attract more workers into the virtual space. The demand is clear with 91% of remote employees reporting they’d like to continue to work in the virtual setting and 76% of employers reportedly considering allowing them to do so.
The ability to recreate, in impressive detail, environments that users can interact with in real-time from the comfort of their own homes will put the power in developers’ hands. With the ability to transport consumers into a fully realised vision of the future we seek to protect or prevent they can raise awareness for sustainable development like never before – a phenomenon already explored in early research by Stanford researchers. Imagine experiencing first-hand the tragedy of diminishing coral reefs, or walking, in the shoes of poorer communities across the globe who suffer the consequences of our own unsustainable living. It is difficult to picture a world ravished by the relentless burning of fossil fuels and stolen of its woodland. Thanks to these advances in technology, we are no longer constrained by our imagination. These experiences could become part of every organisation’s sustainability initiatives championed by the business and delivered through L&D.
No easy fix
Unfortunately, our digital behaviours are not without their environmental footprint either, with the average business user “creating 135kg (298lbs) CO2e (i.e., carbon dioxide equivalent) through sending emails alone each year. That is the equivalent of driving 200 miles in a family car and demonstrates there is no easy fix to sustainable living – certainly not in the short term at least.
There is clearly a long way to go before we can describe ourselves as living sustainably. It seems this complicated issue requires a concentrated and multifaceted approach if we are to preserve the needs of tomorrow by better fuelling the needs of today. Advancing technologies and the pull of the Metaverse is only likely to continue to drive a positive trend in remote working and virtual training and from a sustainability perspective, this can only be a good thing.