Paperless vs. Electronic Work at Riverdale
Over the past decade, an increasing number of schools are making the decision to become paperless institutions. This means that instead of using traditional textbooks, binders, and notebooks, all coursework is to be conducted on laptops or tablets that are supplied by the institution.
At Riverdale, members of the Class of 2022 use iPads supplied by the school as the basis for their studies. This pilot is a way for Riverdale to experiment with the idea of adopting a paperless regime for the entire school.
The transition to becoming a paperless school is spearheaded by individual schools themselves, as well as by large technology corporations such as Microsoft that want to support environmentally friendly alternatives to textbooks. With tablets, students can easily download books, textbooks, and other materials without paper waste. Tech companies also claim that electronic based curricula help familiarize younger generations with technology, a basic skill that has become necessary in the modern job market.
Although the environmental cost to manufacture a paperback book is greater than that of an e-book, the amount of carbon dioxide gas emitted to manufacture a tablet or laptop trumps the carbon emissions of both an e-book and a paperback book combined.
According to Apple’s environmental report, a total of 170 kilograms of carbon dioxide are emitted per iPad 2 Air. That figure includes the carbon emissions that come from the production of the product, customer use, transportation (to retailers from factories), and recycling. Carbon dioxide emission is the value of all greenhouse gas emissions expressed in terms of the impact of carbon dioxide. To put that figure into perspective, according to Toyota, a standard SUV emits around 5000 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year.
The Upper School holds roughly 500 students, and if Riverdale supplied every student with an iPad 2 Air, the environmental cost of the tablets would be close to 85,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions.
Slate, an online magazine owned by Microsoft revealed on their website that the production of a traditional paperback book emits about 7.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while textbooks emit twice as much carbon dioxide. If a student is supplied with five books a year for an English class along with an additional three textbooks for other subjects, the carbon emissions would add up to about 80 kilograms of carbon dioxide, which is less than half of the emissions of an iPad 2 Air. With paper books and materials, a student who spends four years at Riverdale would cost 320 kilograms of carbon dioxide, and with an iPad, this waste would be roughly half that figure, given that the iPad 2 Air is not upgraded during the student’s time at Riverdale. This scenario excludes potential malfunctions of devices, and assumes that the student uses the iPad 2 Air solely for reading material. The environmental argument for using tablets is valid if students read over 22 books per year, and this figure excludes upgrades for the tablet, which usually occur every two years.
Riverdale’s reuse of textbooks helps limit the institution’s carbon footprint, but it also uses a combination of desktops, laptop carts, and iPads alongside paperback books and paper readers. If the commitment is made to standardize the use of electronic tools for learning as opposed to using a combination of paperbacks, textbooks, and electronics, Riverdale’s carbon footprint can be decreased dramatically.