What does sustainable (digital) scholarship look like for individual scholars?

I listened to a thought-provoking lecture by Neil Selwyn this morning (Studying digital education in times of climate crisis) which offered a detailed and hopeful account of the situation in which we find ourselves with the post-pandemic ubiquity of digital education against a background of climate crisis. I was particularly interested in his discussion of digital degrowth as a deliberate process of seeking to minimise resource consumption through digital activities. While the scope of this undertaking is potentially extremely broad, it left me wondering about immediate steps we can be taken at the level of individual practice towards this end.

  • Neil explained how he encourages people to turn their cameras off in Zoom meetings
  • Using phone calls or voice only Zoom calls rather than Zoom meetings.
  • Not sending thank you e-mails or unnecessary CC’s. On one estimate each adult in the UK sending one less thankyou e-mail a day would save “16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – equivalent to 81, 152 flights to Madrid or taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road”. Source: https://www.ovoenergy.com/ovo-newsroom/press-releases/2019/november/think-before-you-thank-if-every-brit-sent-one-less-thank-you-email-a-day-we-would-save-16433-tonnes-of-carbon-a-year-the-same-as-81152-flights-to-madrid
  • Being more parsimonious with our e-mail communication more generally and finding ways to resist the escalatory spirals of what Cal Newport calls the hyperactive hive mind. If you’re having a long e-mail exchange with someone working on the same campus as you then try to meet them in person instead.
  • Running academic workshops, seminars and conferences online unless there’s a pressing reason for them to take place f2f and/or the majority of participants are local to the venue.
  • Avoiding the use of video resources when you only wish to listen to the audio track. I often listen to things on YouTube and am increasingly aware of the waste involved in this.

By suggesting individual techniques I don’t mean to imply this is purely a matter of individual responsibility. There’s an institutional conversation which urgently needs to take place here about the emerging realities of flexible working with a view to the sustainability policies which universities endorse. To adopt a practice from this list will usually provide occasions to explain the reason for it to others, helping to stimulate the broader dialogue we need within higher education about sustainable scholarship

What other techniques are there? If you have any suggestions leave them in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list along with your name.

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