Feedback from SustPack12: “Are all life cycle oriented tools created equal?”

April 11, 2012

Hey guys! My presentation to Woodstock High School science students went swimmingly! The kids were totally great and I was surprised how much fun I had! And, they were SO normal—not what I remember from living the dream in High School, ha!

The teacher had already introduced them to The Story of Stuff so they were familiar with life cycles, providing a nice foundation for discussions of life cycle analysis. Also, the AP class had been researching material health laws (ROHS, CONEG, etc.); this served as a great introduction to extended producer and voluntary responsibility programs. They especially enjoyed my profiling of TerraCycle and Ecovative as two “hip” sustainable start-ups and LOVED Ecovative’s Mushroom Duck! Hopefully I wet their whistle for an appetite of sustainability. But I was totally right—the environment IS seen as “cool” by students: they seemed to completely understand the less than favorable state of environmental affairs we had inherited and the need for more sustainable systems of production and consumption, even at the cost of convenience and altered social behaviors.

The concept I really nailed home—as it is the closest thing to a sustainable philosophy I could articulate— was that there is no waste in nature; everything serves to stimulate another perpetuation of life. This idea was first communicated to me in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things (the students had heard of this book!!!!)—via the symbol of the cherry tree: its cherries feed birds, the leaves perform photosynthesis feeding the tree, the pits of the cherries grow new trees, the fallen leaves decompose and fertilize the soil, and so on and so on. The authors encourage that we model human systems off those in nature—as nature is the ultimate closed loop system. Pretty neat! While I didn’t get a picture of the kids because we spent the leftover time taking about college and life abroad and the like, I DID snap this prom invite; enjoy!

Today we are going to pick up where we left off re: feedback from Sustainability in Packaging.

The last presentation in the “GPP and Proliferation of Tools” panel was titled “Are all Lifecycle Oriented Tools to Evaluate Packaging Created Equal?” by Tony Kingsbury of the Sustainable Products and Solutions Program at UC Berkeley.

Kingsbury began his presentation explaining how many tools have proliferated to meet the demand for sustainable packaging assessment resources; however, few understand how the resources differ. Consequently, UC Berkeley “tested” several popular packaging assessment tools by comparing the data outputs when comparing “apples-to-apples” within the different softwares; in other words, evaluating multiple product packages from the same category using different tools. Kingsbury postulated, “Are all life cycle tools created equal?”

Wow, I thought to myself. I had never heard of anyone comparing the data outputs of the different softwares when comparing the same packaging systems…I had always understood each tool as providing a different snapshot into the “sustainability” of a package/product/service…this outta be interesting…

The study compared the data outputs of popular packaging assessment tools COMPASS, GaBi, SimaPro, Sustainable Minds, and the Walmart Packaging Scorecard. The product package categories selected were cookies, milk, diapers, and 16 oz. cups; and, the scenarios considered were source reduction, recycled content, and shipping distance.

Check out the screen shots from Kingsbury’s PPT below as these demonstrate the study findings:

As per these findings, different tools treat different materials…differently.

Kingsbury then went on to draw some conclusion from the test findings, insofar as the best way to capitalize on the tools is concerned. For Kingsbury, source reduction is the best way to improve your Score, regardless of the tool used, as weight is such a dominating factor in life cycle analysis. Recycled content is good, as long as it doesn’t add weight. Shipping long distance is “always a poor choice;” and, end of life scenarios differ so distinctively between tools that this should not be a high priority.

Lastly, Kingsbury described some of the inherent inadequacies of LCA tools today, insofar as inaccurate data, data holes, and built-in assumptions and methodologies are concerned.

The final study will be available in a month; I will be sure to include a link when it goes live.

And by the way, that’s what I am talking about in this video interview at Sustainability in Packaging.

Thanks yall! Talk soon!

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