Archive for the 'Life cycle analysis' Category

Presentations from the Toxic Use Reduction Institute’s Fall 2017 Continuing Education Meeting now available

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017 by

The Massachusetts Toxic Use Reduction Institute recently hosted an continuing education meeting. The presentations from that event are now available on their web site. They include:

Strategies for Life Cycle Thinking and Product Sustainability at GE Plenary Speaker: Bill Flanagan, Aspire Sustainability
Partners Update – November 16, 2017
Session A
Materials Accounting Refresher Jeff Bibeau, Tighe & Bond
Session B
Reducing Chemicals in Water Demineralization Systems Maura Hawkins, Berkshire Environmental Consultants
Session C
Business Value of LCA at GE Bill Flanagan, Aspire Sustainability
Leveraging LCA to Improve TUR Tom Gloria, Industrial Ecology Consultants
Product Sustainability: An Intro to Life Cycle Assessment & Circular Economy Sebastian Birke, ThinkStep
Marketing Sustainability via LCAs Raymond Lizotte, Schneider Electric
Session D
Improved Operations and Maintenance:
The Low Hanging Fruit
Heather Tenney, Toxics Use Reduction Institute
A Workers Perspective; Transitioning  to Safer Chemicals Steve Gauthier, Gauthier Safety Consulting
Session E
Resource Conservation Planning & Saving Energy with Metering Tools Rich Bizzozero, MA Office of Technical Assistance
Saving Energy With Meter Data Lauren Mattison, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Session F
Pollution Prevention Options Analysis System Jason Marshall, Toxics Use Reduction Institute
Using P2OASys Alicia McCarthy, Toxics Use Reduction Institute
Options Evaluation Tool Pam Eliason,  Toxics Use Reduction Institute
P2OASys Activity 1
P2OASys Activity 2

The comparative environmental impact of e-mail and paper mail

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 by

This post originally appeared on Environmental News Bits.

Several days ago, a friend made a sarcastic comment on Facebook about how much better e-mail is for the environment (in the context of spammers choosing e-mail over paper mail). That made me wonder about the relative impact of paper vs. electronic mail. So, I did what librarians do: I went to Google and started searching. Here’s what I found.

There have been a couple of life cycle studies of paper mail delivery. Pitney-Bowes published a study in 2008 which found that:

…the distribution of letter mail by the Posts generates, on average, about 20 grams of CO2 per letter delivered. In addition, a survey of more than a dozen studies shows that the indicative range of CO2 emissions associated with the upstream mail piece creation process is about 0.9 – 1.3 grams of CO2 per gram of paper. (p. 2).

The U.S. Postal Service commissioned a similar study in 2008, which found:

  • Total energy consumed by the four mail products accounts for 0.6% of national energy consumption, a figure that seems reasonable given the quantities of mail in the U.S. economy, and the energy-intensive nature of paper and board production, printing, and motor vehicle transportation.
  • At the household level, energy and CO2 emissions associated with the entire mail life cycle are roughly comparable to those from operating any of several common home appliances over the same period of time. (p.ES-2)

Both the Pitney-Bowes and USPS studies also looked at other environmental impacts, including waste generation and recycling rates. The Pitney-Bowes report also did a preliminary investigation of electronic communications compared to mail, which found that energy use of information communication technology is about 2% of total U.S. energy use, which is comparable to that of the paper industry. They were unable to calculate a comparative environmental footprint for the two methods.

In 2009, McAfee commissioned a report on the environmental impact of junk e-mail (spam). The results were eye-opening:

  • An estimated worldwide total of 62 trillion spam emails were sent in 2008
  • The average spam email causes emissions equivalent to 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per message
  • Globally, annual spam energy use totals 33 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), or 33 terawatt hours (TWh). That’s equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes, with the same GHG emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using two billion U.S. gallons of gasoline. (Key Findings)

There are also several research papers which explore the overall environmental impact of electronic communications, including e-mail and e-commerce. These include:

Although on a per message basis, it appears that e-mail has a lower environmental footprint that of paper mail, the comparative ease and perceived low or no cost of e-mail makes it more likely that people will choose it over paper mail, which requires a stamp and a trip to a mailbox or post office. In aggregate, e-mail has a significant environmental footprint, which may be even higher than that of paper mail.

The bottom line: Although e-mail appears to be a better environmental choice than paper mail because there is no obvious up-front waste stream, the research paints a much more nuanced picture, particularly when the including the environmental impact of electronics manufacturing and data center operation.