2018 FYEE Conference

Life Cycle Assessment and Economics in First Year Engineering

Presented at Technical Session III

IApproximately three years ago, a module on life-cycle assessment was incorporated into an Introduction to Engineering course that is open to all first-year undergraduate students at Loyola University Maryland. This paper will describe the module, its development, and subsequent revision. Future work will be conducted with a colleague from the Department of Economics. The module begins with a viewing of “The Story of Stuff,” produced by Annie Leonard of Greenpeace. This video is a robust critique of the lifecycle of consumer products. A second video with a tough opposing view introduces students to two fundamentally different political and philosophical viewpoints. Students are asked to write immediate in-class, anonymous responses to both viewpoints. The instructor collects and collates these responses, highlighting major themes and utilizing student quotes. Discussion in the following class session is based upon these responses with the intent to initiate deeper insight and critical analysis. For example, given the common issue of how budgets and percentages are presented in both videos, there is a natural segue into the ways data is presented and the “problem with percentages.” A document unique to this module is introduced referencing the data in full and discusses the important idea that data needs to be referenced with appropriate proportions and units (per capita, per mile, per GDP, etc.) and can be easily distorted when the reference base is changed (e.g. from total budget to discretionary budget). Another major theme in both videos is that of growth and its limits; this is again a natural starting point to introduce students to the foundational concepts in macroeconomics of the question of commodities, an s-curve of development with creative destruction, and the Ehrlich-Simon bet. The conclusion of the module requires students to write a reflective essay where they analyze the presentations more formally for the intended audience, author biases, and methodologies. The students are asked to find one thing they agree with and disagree with on both sides of the debate. Current students (2017) seem to readily accept ecological concerns about consumerism and show a desire for fairness and equity. This author believes those attitudes are well established in current K-12 education. This provides a nice frame, as time allows, to introduce principles from sustainability engineering and design, which are intended to analyze rigorously the externalized costs of products, consumption, and necessary infrastructure. This then lends itself to the application of a rapid “ecoaudit” to assess areas of impact under different design scenarios. This can be accomplished using materials selection software CES Edupack 2017 (Granta Design Limited, 2017).

  1. Dr. Suzanne Keilson Loyola University Maryland [biography]
  2. Prof. Lynne C Elkes Loyola University Maryland [biography]
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