Purpose – The purpose of this study is to compare the life cycle environmental impacts of the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Sciences' current printed annual report to a version distributed via the internet. Design/methodology/approach – Life cycle environmental impacts of both versions of the report are modeled using the online environmental input‐output life cycle assessment (EIO‐LCA) tool. Most monetary model inputs were obtained from the University of Cincinnati and the others were estimated. Results are presented for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, energy use, water use, and human and ecosystem health impacts. Alternative scenarios reflecting different reader behaviors were evaluated. Findings – The electronic report reduces economic costs and all categories of environmental impacts so long as the recipients do not print the report at home. Impacts of the printed report were higher than the electronic report due to impacts associated with paper production and disposal and to a lesser extent differences in the impacts of mail versus electronic distribution. The environmental preferability of the options is heavily influenced by the number of users who choose to print the electronic report at home; if more than 10 percent print at home, it offsets the benefits of the e‐report. Research limitations/implications – Using the EIO‐LCA tool limited the accuracy of the results by using average US data for a specific supply chain. It was limited by assumptions about reader behavior with the e‐report. Practical implications – This case study demonstrates how a screening level life cycle assessment (LCA) might be used by a university administrator to make decisions supported by quantitative environmental information. Originality/value – The screening level LCA‐based approach can provide grounding for environmental decision making within a reasonable time period and cost while maintaining sufficient accuracy for guiding purchasing or product decisions.
International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jan 6, 2012
Keywords: Decision making; Electronic media; Print media; Annual reports; Environmental input‐output models; Communications; Life cycle costs; Life cycle assessment
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