Engineering Sustainable Change
By: Ellie Troxell
This past weekend I stood frozen in front of a wall of toys, equal parts enamored and overwhelmed by the sheer choice and volume. Building blocks, action figures, baby dolls, stuffed animals, board games, puzzles, robots, drones… rows upon rows of options, stacked a dozen deep. Each toy was safely stored in layers of plastic and cardboard packaging awaiting the final festive wrapping and bow.
This is a wonderful time of year, a season for keeping in mind our loved ones, our friends and coworkers, about the relationships and connections that bring joy to our lives. But standing in the toy isle, as the Brendle Group Team CAOS materials lead, I couldn’t help but notice that in our efforts to appreciate those we care about, we forget unnamed future generations and the impact of our consumption. As we move through this year’s gift giving season, it is in our best interests to consider the environmental implications of our gifts.
Our choices have consequences. To be more conscientious consumers, we need to start thinking across the life of the product to help us make better decisions. We currently lack a holistic perspective when making choices, and therefore, don’t consider the consequences of each purchase. Looking to the life cycle of a product provides valuable information for exploring decisions related to understanding the impacts, environmental and otherwise, in the system.
For a typical product, the environmental life cycle impacts (commonly known as “cradle-to-grave” impacts) include the extraction of raw materials, the processing, manufacturing, and fabrication; the transportation or distribution of the product to the consumer; and the disposal or recovery of the product after its useful life. Let’s briefly frame how to think of each of these phases for an average toy:
Common materials used for toys include metal, lumber, textiles, and plastics. Moreover, the extraction of a given material requires differing intensities of energy and water use. Look to optimize sustainable materials used in a product such as recyclables or biomaterials.
Everyone has a role to play in supporting sustainability. Here are five questions to guide you as you finish up your holiday shopping:
Albeit cheesy – this holiday season, let’s give the give of less waste to our planet. I hope that you take this information to empower your choices and leverage bigger change in the coming year.
About the Author – Ellie has a strong combination of technical and team skills with experience in both engineering and planning. Her diverse background includes land development design, permitting, and compliance; sustainable building certification; and urban design that integrates sustainable and regenerative principles. In these areas, Ellie has managed and supported project process flow, led stakeholder engagement, and facilitated dynamic teams to positive project outcomes. Her skills are rounded out with strong communication capacity, both in team processes, project documentation, and grant writing.
Prior to joining Brendle Group, Ellie worked in civil engineering design and consulting and non- profit research. At Brendle Group, Ellie is able to uniquely apply her interdisciplinary skills and perspective to the company’s energy and climate action planning projects, sustainable design and management projects, and efforts that cross energy and water disciplines.