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Buy to Save
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Program
The intention of this tool is to help the school choose products in a way that minimizes adverse direct and indirect environmental impacts. The target group is our entire community. A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) quantifies inputs and outputs for a system in terms of a standardized unit of measure. It will help us move beyond the vague notion of buying “greener” products, forcing us to really look at why and how these products are “green”.
At our school, current purchasing guidelines include:
Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) silver and/or gold registered products for all standard desktop and notebook/laptop computers and monitors.
recycled content paper products.
Green Seal certified cleaning products.
low or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) paints.
laundry services whose operations are the most “green”.
Energy Star or better certification for all electronics and appliances.
flooring that has lowest environmental impact.
We will also send signals to other schools letting them know that it is possible to buy in an environmentally conscious manner without being fiscally irresponsible. At its core, our LCA will be based on a point system. The point system, which was adopted from the Hungarian Association for Environmentally Aware Management, uses a score from one to three on each of the environmental impacts that are assessed. The impacts include energy consumption, waste generation, air pollution, water pollution, and soil contamination. Each impact is assessed for each stage of a products development, from extraction of raw materials to distance between distributor and the school. If there is little to no environmental impact of a given stage, the product earns zero points. If there is heavy impact, the product earns three points. So, the lower the final score, the better the product will be in terms of its environmental impact.
To test the LCA, students in the sustainability class looked at the process that goes into the production of shirts from Gildan Tees, which we currently purchase. The process was compared to shirts from Anvil Knitwear, Inc., which boasts an “eco-collection” of more sustainable products. After looking at the Gildan t-shirts, we realized that the production and harvesting of these shirts was not as sustainable as we would like them to be. The organic cotton production and harvesting processes of the Anvil shirts were much more sustainable, by 13 points, scoring better in every category except energy consumption. The only downfall to the Anvil shirts is that their production might have required more transportation. The cotton was sent from Texas to North Carolina to be yarned, then to Honduras to be made into shirts, then by boat to the Anvil distributor in New York. We don’t know where the cotton for the Gildan t-shirts originally came from, so we had to make the unlikely assumption that it came from fields in Honduras, the same place where the shirts were manufactured. If this were true the, Anvil t-shirts had a combined 58 points out of a possible 120, making them 52% sustainable, whereas the Gildan t-shirts had 54 points out of a possible 105 points making the shirts 49.6% sustainable. So, the Anvil shirts still came out on top.
Clay Splawn, the Dean of Academics, commented saying “The Life Cycle Assessment project that students are engaging in has a two-fold benefit. First, it provides for them a glimpse into the environmental and social effects of the products we use. It could potentially have a huge impact, not only on how we as an institution approach our buying decisions, but, perhaps more importantly, how the students themselves may become life-long, sustainability-focused consumers. Second, student engagement in the LCA provides them with an educational opportunity that extends ‘beyond the classroom,’ providing them real-world applications of the methods and lessons they are learning about in the classroom.”
The LCA system will be soon presented to the sustainability committee for review. The ultimate goal is to use the system to enforce better purchasing practices at the school. Mr. Kinne, one of the school's veteran faculty and a long-time environmental science teacher noted, “I think that our school can only benefit from having a LCA program, and if done right, it could greatly reduce the school’s overall environmental impact.” Mrs. Williamson, who manages the school store said that, “The LCA program would be an excellent addition to the school, as long as the students and faculty are concurrently educated about LCA program, and why we try to purchase green products. We want students to be doing the same with their own purchases.”
Students in the sustainability class hope to have the current LCA program fully adopted at our school by the end of the school year. We expect that those who purchase materials at our school will choose products whose production minimizes the impact on the environment (shooting for a 60% sustainability rating on the LCA scale). Our sustainability class will make sure the whole community is aware of the school’s commitment. Students from the sustainable class will audit products every month, educating purchasers of environmental impacts, and suggesting alternatives. There are more and more websites popping up that highlight companies who produce “green” products, two of the bigger ones being www.goodguide.com and www.climatecounts.org. Staff and faculty will use these websites to help them make better decisions. In the end, we hope the increased attention towards how we effect our natural resources when purchasing materials will alone push people to make more careful decisions.