Initial Publication Date: February 13, 2013

Teaching life cycle assessment (LCA) modeling through project based learning.

James Stone, Civil and Environmental Engineering, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

My approach to integrating sustainable engineering into the classroom at SDSM&T is through a life cycle assessment (LCA) modeling graduate class that I will teach Fall 2013 for the first time. I have previously incorporated LCA modeling as a module or component within a sustainable engineering course I developed (2009) and recently co-tough (2012) with a new colleague who was specifically hired to integrate sustainability into our Civil and Environmental Engineering curriculum. The course will be open to all students on my campus, which primarily consists of engineering and science majors. As a result, students may have a wide range of background and interest in this topic. Many of the students will be interested in integrating sustainability principles, and specifically LCA methodology, into their graduate research or within their engineering profession after they graduate.

The course will focus on the computational structure and data sources required to complete an environmental LCA. We will present, discuss, and apply LCA methodology to assess materials, products, and services from material acquisition through end-of-life. Assessments will identify opportunities for improvements on the basis of pollution prevention and resource conservation. As with most of the courses I teach, the course will be delivered using a project or problem based learning approach, utilizing many of the LCA modeling software available such as GREET (transportation sector biofuels;, Earthsmart (web-based LCA model; that uses the Ecoinvent database;, Open LCA (free open-source LCA software;, and Sitewise (sustainable environmental remediation). Each of the projects will be completed within interdisciplinary teams where the students will work on an assigned or selected topic of interest, depending on the specific LCA modeling software we will be using at that point of the course. The goals of the projects are to further their understanding of sustainability and to encourage the students to effectively communicate their findings to a variety of audiences, whether to the public, policy makers, or campus colleagues. 

I am looking forward to learning more about engineering and sustainability pedagogical techniques and sharing my classroom LCA knowledge.

Downloadable version of this essay

Teaching life cycle assessment (LCA) modeling through project based learning (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 17kB Feb12 13)