Environmental Impact Factors
Acid rain. Water pollution. Global warming. Dying animals, plants, and fish. The list goes on. Accurately gauging our impact on the environment has only really come into focus in the past couple of decades. Sustainable design looks at how your product’s development, from cradle to grave, will affect four crucial environmental factors: air acidification; carbon footprint; total energy consumed; and water eutrophication. Measuring these impacts will help you better design for the environment.
Air Acidification – Burning fuels creates sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and other acidic air emissions. This causes an increase in the acidity of rainwater, which in turn acidifies lakes and soil. These acids can make the land and water toxic for plants and aquatic life. Acid rain can also slowly dissolve man-made building materials such as concrete. This impact is typically measured in units of kg sulfur dioxide equivalent (SO2).
Carbon Footprint – Carbon dioxide and other gasses resulting from burning fossil fuels accumulate in the atmosphere, which in turn increases the earth’s average temperature. Also known as Global Warming Potential (GWP), carbon footprint is measured in units of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Scientists, politicians, and others blame global warming for problems like loss of glaciers, extinction of species, and more extreme weather, among others.
Total Energy Consumed – This is a measure of the non-renewable energy sources associated with the part’s lifecycle in units of megajoules (MJ). This impact includes not only the electricity or fuels used during the product’s lifecycle, but also the upstream energy required to obtain and process these fuels, and the embodied energy of materials that would be released if burned. Total energy consumed represents the net calorific value of primary energy demand from non-renewable resources (e.g. petroleum, natural gas, etc.). Efficiencies in energy conversion (e.g. power, heat, steam, etc.) are also factors.
Water Eutrophication - Eutrophication occurs when an overabundance of nutrients are added to a water ecosystem. Nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater and agricultural fertilizers cause an overabundance of algae to bloom, which then depletes the water of oxygen and results in the death of both plant and animal life. This impact is typically measured in either kg phosphate equivalent (PO4) or kg nitrogen (N) equivalent.