MAE 124/ESYS 103 Spring 2006

Additional Guidance for Paper 2.

Paper topic:  MAE124_Paper2.pdf

Sample sources for information:

  • Assigned reading from week 4 on life cycle assessment is a good starting point.  You may also want to look at other materials on the EPA web site on life-cycle assessment.
  • For an alternative (and more detailed) discussion of life-cycle assessment, see the European Environment Agency's discussion: PDF version (116 pgs).  The European Environment Agency and the European Commission on Environment Programme both provide a broad range of environmental information that could be useful.
  • Another good central source, (particularly for considering issues of international standards, and useful examples of companies actually using DfE/LCA) is here.
  • An excellent toolkit for actually implementing DfE (and hence LCA) is available at this Minnesota business support site.
  • For an American academic perspective, the Green Design Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University is particularly good.
  • In particular, they actually have a tool which you can experiment with online to estimate environmental impacts of commodities and services.
  • For a different international view, much information is available at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
  • Here is an example of the type of consumer information that is becoming available to make informed purchasing decisions.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    1.  How do we use
    See the detailed instructions.

    2.  How do I create footnotes? Are endnotes acceptable?
    Footnotes and endnotes are both fine. Any consistent format is OK. The Chicago Manual of Style is one standard format, and you can find a detailed discussion of its usage for term papers at this University of Wisconsin writing center site.

    You may also use citation methods commonly used for scientific papers, such as in line references to author and year, with a full reference list at the end. A sample reference might be "[Smith and Jones, 2006]". In this case, you should be sure to identify specific page numbers where relevant ("[Smith and Jones, 2006, p. 291]").

    3.  How should web pages be cited? What types of web pages are acceptable as sources?
    If you use a web page as a source, then you should cite it, providing as much standard reference information as possible: author, title, date, location, etc. Keep in mind that web pages vary considerably in credibility. In general, the most credible information comes from peer-reviewed scholarly publications (which could include electronic journals and electronic reprints posted to web pages). Researched reports (with citations) from environmental organizations are also often fairly reliable, although they may not have gone through a peer review process. Some web pages are essentially advertising brochures for a particular product, and you should probably assume that the authors are presenting a biased view of their products features. (Much material also appears in blogs, which can be interesting and provocative, but they may not have much real research or information behind them. We don't recommend blogs as primary research sources.)

    4.  I don't seem to be making any real progress on this paper. I have searched for information on many products, that would help me write this paper. I have researched foil, plastic bags, styrofoam, water bottles, pencils, coal, credit cards, glass, baseballs, light bulbs, fertilizer, batteries, and splenda. It seems that no matter what product I try to research, the majority of sites that I find have to do with custom ordering the product, or shipping the product to your house. I find very little information on how these products are made, or what their environmental impacts are, or what are possible alternatives to these products. But even those sites that I do find that could possibly help me write this paper do not give any quantitative information. I think it was mentioned in fourth hour on Friday that the papers should be quantitative and not qualitative. Can you give me any advice on how to write a 10-12 page LCA paper on a product, when I am having such a hard time finding any useful quantitative information, no matter what product I tried to research.
    Specific industrial procedures are often considered proprietary information, and you may not be able to find detailed information for a given product. However, you should be able to identify the major materials that are used to construct the product that you are studying and to evaluate the environmental impact of the process. (For example, for foil you can hope to answer many relevant questions: what metal is foil made from? how much mass goes into a roll of foil? where is it made? how far is it shipped? how is it sold?) Stick to a simple product, and be sure to look for sources other than corporate web sites.

    Published life cycle assessments, such as the one assigned as reading last week, can represent weeks of work by multiple people, so we obviously don't expect you to duplicate that level of effort. Where possible you should aim to be quantitative, but you may also identify key areas where data collection or other additional work might be required.

    5.  Are sample papers from previous years available?
    Unfortunately, the previous professor of this class, Prof. Caulfield, did not save any model papers when he moved from the US to Britain.

    6.  I realize that I may be going about this paper the wrong way. In the assignment, the essay prompt is: "How could 'Life Cycle Assessment' (LCA) have reduced the environmental impact of a product that is in common use in the United States?" I have been spending my time writing this essay as an LCA for soybean oil/corn ethanol biodiesel. But after re-reading the prompt, it looks to me that you are not looking for me to apply the tool of LCA, but to explain why it would be good to use in regards to a specific product. Please let me know if this is what you are looking for in the assignment, because that would mean a significant re-write for me, and if so...I had better get started soon.
    They're not totally orthogonal. An LCA might include everything the paper asks for, though you could do everything the paper asks for without really doing an LCA. We'd prefer that you try to do an LCA. So keep doing what you are doing, but do address all the requested points. What we've been saying in class is that you can make criterion 2 the majority of your paper, which is not what the prompt says, but if you do that, it will be fine.

    7.  Should we be writing the paper to the manufacturer or the consumer?
    The manufacturer is probably a straightforward choice as a target audience, although that may depend on your specific product. And you certainly need to make sure that your paper can be graded by people who don't have the knowledge or perspective of the manufacturer.

    8.  When you say "the methodology of LCA and how it applies to the product" do you want me to explain the concept of 'goal and scope', inventory analysis, impact assessment, and life cycle interpretation? This appears to be what the experts have deemed the key four stages, but to me the methodology would be just the comparison to other competing products and environmental impacts.
    Explaining the methodology as it applies to your example means that you basically do an LCA, but perhaps with a less thorough treatment than is seen in the readings. Address what the major areas are that need exploring; why they need exploring; given how each resource is usually harvested, what are the likely results of a thorough LCA.

    9.  In question 4 above, you mentioned that no matter the product I choose, I should be able to find some of the essential information such as how far the product is shipped. The distance a product is shipped is based purely on where it is shipped from and where it is being shipped to. So the distance the product travels is a varying number. So how would you like us to give good quantitative data about our product, with respect to shipment, when this data is user-dependent?
    Regarding shipping, here are some issues that you might consider. Where is the product made? Is it domestic or is it shipped from overseas? Is there one manufacturing facility in the US (or world) or are there many? Is manufacturing near leading consumers (in the case of styrofoam packing material, this might be computer shippers or catalogue mail order companies)? Is it shipped by truck, rail, or airplane? What is the mass per unit volume, and what would resulting freight costs be? How much energy would it take to ship this item 100 km?

    10.  Could I just have my product be a category of product (e.g. styrofoam in general), or would I need to choose my product to be something specific (e.g. a ten ounce styrofoam cup)? feel that limiting myself to just writing an LCA on a particular product would not allow me to write as complete and quantitative a paper as I would like. So I was wondering if I could get your permission to write on the general product category, and then include quantitative data about various specific products, to give the reader more of a sense of how much they can cost to purchase or to make, and how much it is used, and how much of it becomes waste.
    You may choose to write about a product in general, but I think you'll have an easier time thinking about the life cycle process if you identify a specific product. For example, styrofoam packing material is commonly reused, while styrofoam cups are not, and this has an impact on the total life cycle costs. In addition, different consumer products have very different types of alternatives that you might consider. You may be able to write a very nice, and insightful paper on a general category of products, but given your tight page limit, that may prevent you from considering the environmental impact of the product or evaluating possible alternatives, both of which are important parts of a life cycle assessment.

    11.  You have mentioned that some information may be considered proprietary, and is not necessarily available. Is it possible that some of the data that we need to find, such as how far the product is shipped, what mode of transportation is used to ship it, and how much energy is used to make the product, is all considered to be proprietary information?
    Individual manufacturers may not release much information on shipping, but general shipping information should be available, so I think you can make some informed estimates. Assume, for example, that your product is shipped by truck from the manufacturer to the vendor who uses it. What are the shipping costs for a product of this mass and volume? (If nothing else, you may be able to determine what UPS would charge to ship a crate of your product---that won't give you a simple split between handling charges and energy charges, but it's a starting point.)

    The energy requirements for making a specific product are likely to be considered proprietary information. You may find more generic information in non-industry sites, or you may find that the web-based life cycle assessment tools linked from the paper assignment web papge will help you to determine some of the information that you want. If you can't find any information, you may want to identify this as an area where a thorough life cycle assessment would need to acquire detailed data.

    12.  Isn't #2 of the essay topic, which requires the description of a brief methodology of LCA, partly covered by the later parts of the essay topic (e.g. #3, 4, 5)? Does this mean that #2 tells us to give a brief general description of what LCA is? I am having hard time applying each of the steps of LCA to my product (especially the fourth step where you can possibly make improvements). How specific should the 2nd inventory step be (as applying it to my product)? Could you give an example?
    Item 2 is partly covered by items 3-5; we want to make sure that you fully explore the life cycle assessment. Item 2 asks you to discuss the life cycle assessment methodology specifically as it applies to your product. How would you implement a life cycle assessment for this product. What data would you need to collect? What environmental impact categories are affected by this product?

    Your inventory step should be as specific as possible, keeping in mind the page limits of your paper. You may not be able to collect detailed data for every item that goes into your product; you may wish to identify areas where a more detailed life cycle assessment would require further data collection.