What’s The Eco Impact of an iPad

Op-Chart in the NYTimes on the weekend of the iPad launch – a lifecycle analysis of the iPad, timely for discussing the core element of analysis in LCA – the functional unit.

Daniel Goleman, author of Ecological Intelligence and Gregory Norris, LCA software expert at Harvard authored the “chart” comparing e-readers. The authors compared the Kindle, the iPad and a book by determine the functional unit as the reading of 1 book, and measured the “payback” of how many books one would have to read on an e-reader to = the ecological impact of a regular non electronic book.

With respect to fossil fuels, water use and mineral consumption, the impact of one e-reader payback equals roughly 40 to 50 books. When it comes to global warming, though, it’s 100 books; with human health consequences, it’s somewhere in between.

All in all, the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library.

As an avid library user, even I find this conclusion smug. It makes me want to stop going to the library, and buy an iPad. The students also felt that this statement encouraged people even further to make the jump and buy an eReader, because 40-50 books seemed like a reasonable goal for someone buying such a device.

In class however we determined several other “functional units” of the iPad that were not analyzed in the LCA:

_Use of a bazillion non e-book apps.
_Listening to music.
_Watching hulu. Nope can’t do that because of the flash problem.
_Making art with digital fingerpainting apps.

And then we also identified more emotional/cultural uses that we would never be able to measure in an LCA:

_Showing off/bling status/class status.
_Give us ideas future world-saving (or at least world-distracting) apps we will build.
_Provide ideas for making SPIMES that would be materialized only on the iPad screen.
_Acquiring something to put in our Gucci bag designed specifically for the iPad.

And all of this points right to the limits of LCA. If you believe the device has the potential to change the culture for the better in the future (only 1/3 of students believed so), how do you account for the ecological impacts today?

NYU ITP: If Products Could Speak Class 8 The Labor Movement

We talk about that which is not documented in LCA – human impacts beyond just health. Social impacts are the 3rd leg of the triple bottom line, that which cannot be easily measured. Today’s class: A little history of the labor movement, activism to expose overseas factory conditions, leading to a rousing discussion on the pros and cons of fair trade. We’ll also do in-class life cycle assessment.

LCA with Jacob Madsen

LCA Learning Group: LCA is not for Wimps!
Learn about LCA from Jacob Madsen
Date: Thursday April 2nd
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 PM
Venue: Smart Design
601 W 26th Street, Suite 182

Jacob Madsen
Energy and Climate Change

LIfe cycle analysis often generates surprising findings, telling us which product is greener. The Hummer or the Prius? Cotton diapers or disposable? Paper or Plastic?
Join us for one of the leading LCA experts. Jacob Madsen works for ERM and is an expert in Life Cycle Analysis, and was instrumental in building SimaPro, one of the leading software tools for conducting “hard core” LCAs.

For those that attended an Intro to LCA with Lloyd Hicks, you are already familiar with his work. Jacob was one of the people behind the recent LCA study of Tropicana, and other famous studies comparing cloth diapers to disposables, or revealing the true lifecycle costs of a pair of men’s boxers for Marks and Spencer. Jacob will share his practice with the o2NYC community.

LCA Event with o2NYC

Join o2NYC as we begin a learning group whose goal is to understand Life Cycle Assessment, and to develop our skills as design professionals to provide the systems thinking approach and holistic understanding that LCA provides.


When: Wednesday, February 25th. 6-8 PM.
Where: Smart Design. 601 W 26th Street, Suite 1820.
RSVP: j at o2nyc dot org
$10 suggested donation.

As a concept, a product lifecycle makes intuitive sense. Designers conceive of a product or service, and source materials that are mined from the earth, refined, manufactured, packaged, marketed, sold, used, and then either retired in landfill, or in a better world, recycled back into the system. Cradle to cradle, here we come. In practice, knowing the full impact of a product’s impact on the environment be the first thing we do as designers when developing a new product idea. A comprehensive approach that takes in all phases of a product lifecycle is the best framework for letting us know which action to take in redesigning for green – which approach is the most environmentally friendly.

Yet as a practice, life cycle assessment is both daunting and complicated, but this may be a case of LCA reflecting the complexities of how we make things today. Lloyd Hicks and I will lead an introductory discussion about the principles and practices of LCA, the first in a series dedicated to showing designers how they can access this critical tool for understanding an entire product service system.

Space is limited. Please RSVP to confirm your participation!