Make Better Toys


Last week I facilitated a discussion with two classes of fifth graders at Fall Creek Elementary in Ithaca about the social and environmental impacts of toys. We used a tool called “LCA” which stands for Life Cycle Assessment. It’s a tool that designers can use to understand the social and environmental impacts of manufactured goods. It’s an important tool for designers because unlike the one-of-a-kind pieces that artists make, designers make stuff that gets reproduced in batches of 100,000. Manufactured goods have exponential impacts on the planet and people.

LCA identifies seven phases of a product’s life cycle: 1. design, 2. pre-production, 3. manufacturing, 4. distribution and sales, 5. use, 6. durability, and 7. end-of-life. The fifth graders totally got it and surprised me with their insights. For example, they were concerned about the values that the toy pictured above promoted in the USE phase of its life cycle. That was deep!

After our LCA discussion, I gave them some guidelines for brainstorming then challenged them to come up with ideas for better toys than the plastic french fries we assessed. No problemo!

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