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The Great Pencil Challenge: Exploring the Eco-Footprint of the Humble Pencil

Updated: Sep 1, 2023


As students gear up for another exciting school year, there's a unique and engaging way to spark their curiosity and deepen their understanding of the environment. Enter "The Great Pencil Challenge," an innovative approach that not only teaches about sustainability and life cycle assessment (LCA) but also aligns seamlessly with the United Nations' Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

1) Unveiling the Challenge

The Great Pencil Challenge takes students on a journey beyond the classroom by delving into the life cycle assessment (LCA) of a seemingly unassuming object: the wood pencil. What might seem like a straightforward instrument holds within it a world of hidden complexities, from raw material extraction to production, transportation, and eventual disposal. The humble pencil encapsulates the essence of responsible consumption and production.

2) Embracing Life Cycle Assessment

Life cycle assessment is a vital concept that helps students grasp the interconnectedness of actions and consequences in the realm of environmental sustainability. By examining the complete life cycle of a pencil, students gain insight into the resource-intensive processes required to manufacture even the simplest of objects. This experience encourages them to reflect on their own consumption habits and the broader impact of their choices.

3) The Journey of a Pencil: A Reflection of Goal 12

1. Materials Sourcing: Begin by exploring the raw materials required for a pencil. Wood, graphite, clay, and metal – all these elements have their own environmental implications when sourced, processed, and transported.

2. Production Process: Dive into the intricate steps involved in crafting a pencil. From cutting and shaping the wood to molding the graphite core and attaching the eraser, each stage involves energy and resources. This stage reflects the importance of efficient production processes and minimizing waste.

3. Transportation: Trace the pencil's journey from manufacturing facilities to distribution centers, to your local store, and finally your school and classroom. The carbon footprint associated with transportation highlights the global nature of our consumption.

4. Usage and End of Life: Consider the pencil's life while in the hands of students. How many pencils does a student go through in a year? What happens when they're no longer usable? As students ponder the pencils they use, loose, and discard, they gain insights into responsible consumption and waste management.

5. Reflection and Action: Engage students in discussions about the environmental impact of the pencil's life cycle. Encourage brainstorming for sustainable solutions, from using recycled materials to reducing packaging waste and discuss alternatives like mechanical or paper pencil options.

Read this blog post to learn more about how to teach LCA in your classroom.

4) Fostering Environmental Stewardship

The Great Pencil Challenge serves as more than just an academic exercise; it's a springboard for fostering environmental stewardship among students. By examining the various stages of the pencil's life cycle, students gain a newfound appreciation for the intricate web of resources and processes that bring even the simplest objects into existence and will begin to embrace the spirit of responsible consumption.

5) Beyond Pencils: A Lifelong Lesson

The knowledge gained from The Great Pencil Challenge transcends beyond the classroom walls echoing the essence of Goal 12 in everyday life. Students become conscious consumers who consider the life cycle of products before making choices. This lesson equips them with skills to assess the environmental impact of items they encounter daily, encouraging a culture of sustainability and responsible consumerism that lasts a lifetime.

So, as you gear up for another school year, consider taking on The Great Pencil Challenge as an opportunity to weave Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production into your curriculum. Together, we can empower the next generation to think critically about their choices and become champions of a greener, more sustainable future.

Join us as we embark on The Great Pencil Challenge, exploring the realms of responsible consumption, sustainable production, and a greener future for all!




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