Fall 2020. Subject to refinement/updating.
Industrial Ecology and Life Cycle Analysis
Fall 2020, Mondays, 4:50 – 7:20 PM
Dr. Gregory A. Norris
Telephone (207) 351-8355
Motivation For the Course
What are the sustainability impacts of the actions of each of us, individually and collectively? How can we think about, measure, and compare such impacts in quantitative terms? For a given category of impact such as climate change or the depletion of freshwater resources, which of our actions are more important to consider? How can a person, or a company, or another organization, estimate and understand and credibly report – and reduce – its negative impacts on the planet and people? What about positive sustainability impacts? Do we have any? Can we?
In order to answer the above questions, we need to answer additional questions. Where do goods and services come from? How are they produced, and what are the sustainability-related impacts of these production activities? Are there consistent and reliable sources of this information? How can we judge their quality and reliability, and what is the level of uncertainty in the results of our estimations? Are they sufficiently accurate to be able to serve as a basis for decision making to drive improvements and progress?
The field of Industrial Ecology, and the discipline of Life Cycle Analysis, have been developed and are continually advanced and applied in order to provide answers to these questions. These methods are used by businesses, governments, researchers and other sustainability stakeholders. They continue to be expanded and advanced in order to address a growing set of sustainability-related impacts of concern, environmental as well as social.
Course Content and Approach
This course provides participants with an opportunity to become proficient practitioners and users of the tools, data resources, and methods which are at the heart of life cycle assessment and industrial ecology. Students will download and develop proficiency with state-of-the-art, professional software for LCA, and they will also download and develop working knowledge of state-of-the-art data resources and impact assessment methods. In this way, they will not only complete the objectives of the course, but they will also construct for themselves a foundation which they can use in future research.
We use open source software which operates on all major operating systems. We also will make use of databases which are available at no cost, yet widely used by leading researchers and practitioners in the fields of Industrial Ecology and LCA. This combination of open source software and transparent, no-cost data resources also ensures that students have a relevant and durable foundation for future work.
The course progresses in an incremental fashion from conceptual underpinnings to basic skills to more advanced concepts and applications and state-of-the-art research directions. We will explore the origins and mechanics of the supply chain concept, and the forms of data that underpin it. These include process-level LCA (“engineers’ view”) models, as well as input/output LCA (“economists’ view”) databases.
We will explore the concepts of footprints, and life cycle impacts. We will then introduce the concept of positive impacts, or handprints. We will consider the conditions required for an entity, whether individual or organization, to have a “net-positive” impact on the environment or society.
Finally, we will consider methodological issues at the frontiers of LCA and Industrial Ecology. These will include allocation, consequential versus attributional modeling, and advanced treatment of product end-of-life including concepts and methods of circularity assessment.
Class meets once per week. This year with a fully virtual mode, we will ensure that students have opportunities to exercise participation with lecture content asynchronously. At the same time, live attendance and active participation during discussions and lectures are strongly encouraged, for students whose circumstances allow it; such participation enriches the course for everyone.
We will rely on a mix of articles, textbook, and web-based information resources in addition to the software and databases described earlier. Student interaction will be facilitated by a combination of in-class “plenary” discussions, in-class breakout groups, and occasional meetings for breakout groups and teams outside of class. We will engage a few guest lecturers during the semester to provide additional variety in perspectives for the course.
Assignments and Evaluation
To help ensure that students are proficient with the concepts and professional LCA software required to conduct their term projects, a set of exercises is assigned early during the course. The purpose of the exercises is to help ensure that students make timely progress in skills development, so that they are able to be successful with the final project. All assignments will be due by midnight, Eastern US time on the dates indicated in the calendar at the end of the syllabus. The LCA exercises during the first few weeks of the course are worth 3-5 points each.
As a vehicle for practical and lasting learning, we will tackle a major assignment during the course: participants will use process-level LCA to estimate the potential benefits of a creative action or project of their own design as a final course project. Graduates are required to have 20 pages of content in their final project. Undergraduates are required to have 15.
Due Dates, Extensions, and Late Work
Assignments must be submitted via email unless another arrangement is announced during the semester. Assignments are due before midnight on the day of class on the date indicated by the syllabus. Late work will be penalized 1/3 of a letter grade per day. While the penalty for lateness is significant, the faculty recognizes that many students must prioritize work, family, and often both. Extensions will be granted to individuals whose obligations outside of class conflict with the course schedule. Each student will have an allowance of up to 2 pre-approved extensions, of 1-week duration each, which can be applied in the case of a work-life-school conflict, to any assignment other than the final project. Both extensions could be applied to the same assignment, creating a single 2-week extension. Please note that no more than 2 extensions of 1 week each will be granted; thus, it is of course vital that students use extensions wisely and manage their schedules. If a student requests an extension but turns in the assignment on time, the extension is not counted as used. Once used on an assignment that is turned in late, extensions will not be refunded to instead use on a future assignment. Faculty will keep track of used extensions, but students are also expected to know if they’ve used extensions and if they have any left.
To use an extension, simply notify the teaching staff that you are using one before the assignment due date. Send a separate email for each extension you wish to apply to an assignment – this is to avoid confusion. Additionally, the final project proposal is not eligible for an extension in this manner. The 5 points for the proposal are based entirely on turning it in on time.
The course grade is based on the following:
60% Skills Check Exercises
40% Term project life cycle assessment, graded as follows:
5% for proposal, 25% for written report, 10% for presentation
Graduates are required to have 20 pages of content in their final project. Undergraduates are required to have 15
The textbook for the course is Environmental Life Cycle Assessment, by Olivier Jolliet et al., published by CRC Press, 2016. Excitingly, this year the book became available at no cost. Download a copy via https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9780429111051
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