UCLAx Cradle to Cradle: class 12

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This is the final in a series of documents that follow my UCLA winter 2010 course titled Cradle to Cradle: Closed Loop Systems. This interdisciplinary course contributes to the school’s Certificate of Global Sustainability.

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UCLAx Cradle to Cradle: class 12

  1. 1. UCLAx class 12 1 UCLAx Cradle to Cradle: class 12 Our twelfth class was also the last of the quarter. The past three months have passed so quickly. I have to admit, I had a crisis of conscience just past the mid point. I was concerned that we had not yet covered enough of the material outlined in the syllabus, still had many concepts and ideas to present, and it seemed likely that we would run out of time. I did make some adjustments, and we did manage to discuss all the topics I had intended. Looking back now, I’m pretty amazed at how much we were able to accomplish in twelve evenings. Since it was our final class, we spent the bulk of the time discussing the quarter long Disassembly Project. With it, their task was to select an every-day object seen or used regularly, disassemble it, catalog all the component parts, analyze the materials those parts are made of, trace the origins of those materials, research any organizations or agencies that regulate manufacturing standards or regulations, and make suggestions for how the object and its production could be improved to diminish environmental impact. Students were also responsible for three other research projects, discussed in earlier posts, which investigated materials/resources, companies/people, and certificates/labels. In assigning those three in conjunction with the Disassembly Project I hoped students would begin to see the complexity of products we take for granted. Cradle to cradle, or closed loop, systems are more than just converting waste to useful raw material. To consider changing even the smallest elements of any production framework requires some understanding of materials and resources, the total impact and sources of waste, how much energy is consumed, how much water is embodied, what unintended toxins are present, how far materials travel, and much more. To contemplate a transition from current linear industrial production to sustainable alternatives demands investigating more than rerouting or repurposing waste material. When I first introduced the Disassembly Project to students, my description was met with blank stares. A few weeks later when I talked about it again, blank stares were replaced with horror. And half way through the quarter, when it was clear that very few students had even selected an object to disassemble, I knew there was something wrong. I have to admit the title I gave it was part of the problem. Some students were concerned about their ability to actually take an object apart. Others were worried I was looking for an object with an overwhelming level of complexity. www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601
  2. 2. UCLAx class 12 2 In the end, I was amazed at how unexpected the chosen objects were. One of my favorite surprises was a Ticonderoga number 2 pencil. Can you get any more every-day than that? And you might think at first that it’s too simple an object to learn anything, but the average pencil is composed of several simple yet deceptively complex parts - the wood body, the graphite core, the paint finish, the eraser, and a metal ferule which holds the eraser. Tracing these components and their constituent materials uncovers more than thirty elements, chemicals, and compounds used - materials such as butadiene, brass, epoxy resin, pumice, zinc, and titanium oxide. It’s like reading the ingredients list on a junk food package. Other objects selected include marmoleum flooring, an alkaline battery, a pair of glasses, a bottle of wine, a coffee maker, a pair of shoes, a greeting card that sings happy birthday with burps, a water pitcher with built in filter, and a milk carton. Our class discussion of these objects was just the tip of the iceberg, this coming week I have to dig into a dozen reports in detail. I’m pretty excited about what I’ve seen so far and I’m anxious to get to work. I’ll let you know what the students discovered in a later post. www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601

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