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Systems 2014, 2(3), 328-365; doi:10.3390/systems2030328

Emergy Evaluation of Formal Education in the United States: 1870 to 2011

1,*  and 2
1 USEPA, Office of Research and Development, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Atlantic Ecology Division, 27 Tarzwell Drive, Narragansett, RI 02882, USA 2 South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 723 Xingke Rd., Tianhe District, Guangzhou 510650, China
An earlier version of this article “Campbell, D.E.; Lu, H.F. The Emergy Basis for Formal Education in the United States. In Emergy Synthesis 5, Theory and Applications of the Emergy Methodology; Brown, M.T., Sweeney, S., Campbell, D.E., Huang, S.L., Ortega, E., Rydberg, T., Tilley, D.R., Ulgiati, S., Eds.; The Center for Environmental Policy, University of Florida: Gainesville, FL, USA, 2009” was presented at the 5th Biennial Emergy Research Conference, Gainesville, FL, USA, January 2008.
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 2 April 2014 / Revised: 4 July 2014 / Accepted: 16 July 2014 / Published: 24 July 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Systems Education for a Sustainable Planet)
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We evaluated the education system of the United States from 1870 to 2011 using emergy methods. The system was partitioned into three subsystems (elementary, secondary and college/university education) and the emergy inputs required to support each subsystem were determined for every year over the period of analysis. We calculated the emergy required to produce an individual with a given number of years of education by summing over the years of support needed to attain that level of education. In 1983, the emergy per individual ranged from 8.63E+16 semj/ind. for a pre-school student to 165.9E+16 semj/ind. for a Ph.D. with 2 years of postdoctoral experience. The emergy of teaching and learning per hour spent in this process was calculated as the sum of the emergy delivered by the education and experience of the teachers and the emergy brought to the process of learning by the students. The emergy of teaching and learning was about an order of magnitude larger than the annual emergy supporting the U.S. education system (i.e., the emergy inflows provided by the environment, energy and materials, teachers, entering students, goods and services). The implication is that teaching and learning is a higher order social process related to the development and maintenance of the national information cycle. Also, the results imply that there is a 10-fold return on the emergy invested in operating the education system of the United States.
Keywords: emergy evaluation; formal education; teaching and learning; United States emergy evaluation; formal education; teaching and learning; United States
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Campbell, D.E.; Lu, H. Emergy Evaluation of Formal Education in the United States: 1870 to 2011. Systems 2014, 2, 328-365.

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