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Life Cycle Assessment of Paper Versus Electronic Assignment Submission

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2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


Tempe, Arizona

Publication Date

April 20, 2017

Start Date

April 20, 2017

End Date

April 22, 2017

Conference Session

Technical Session 2d

Tagged Topic

Pacific Southwest Section

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Paper Authors

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Patrick McDonnal Indicate Technologies, Inc, Santa Clara, CA 95050

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Jean L. Lee California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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The production of both hard and soft copy submission of homework assignments such as problem sets make an impact on the environment in terms of energy consumption and carbon emissions. An investigation was conducted as to which method is less environmentally impactful. Student disposition towards each assignment submission method was also investigated because it is associated with learning efficacy. A survey was conducted in Cal Poly’s Materials Engineering Department to determine the primary components contributing to the environmental impact of paper and electronic assignments, as well as the students’ disposition towards each of them. The components that were considered in this study were man-made products used by a student to complete one homework assignment and were in part chosen based on the survey results. Long lifetime items such as buildings and furniture were not included as components in this study. Using life cycle assessment principles to analyze the components, it was found that paper assignment submission results in 1.30 MJ of energy consumed per assignment, while an electronic assignment consumes 0.633 MJ of energy. The global warming potential (GWP) of paper assignments was 57.6 g CO2 and of electronic assignments was 32.6 g CO2. The largest contributing components of each submission method were subjected to a sensitivity analysis, which showed that the results are strongly dependent on the length of the assignment and the time it takes to complete the assignment.

McDonnal, P., & Lee, J. L. (2017, April), Life Cycle Assessment of Paper Versus Electronic Assignment Submission Paper presented at 2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, Tempe, Arizona.

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