Research Paper: Environmental Science

Research Paper


Each student will select a topic and write a short research paper using a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) approach. LCA involves evaluating the environmental impact of a product through its life cycle, thereby encompassing extraction and processing of raw materials, manufacturing, distribution, use, recycling, and final disposal. LCA is sometimes referred to as “cradle to grave” analysis.

Your topic should involve contrasting two (or more) comparable types of products (or potentially human activities) to assess the most sustainable option. For example, Keurig pods versus filter brew coffee, or cloth versus disposable diapers, etc. Energy generation is possible as a topic, but it is intrinsically an “up-level” to tackle this (more later).

In this assignment, you should write a balanced and quantitative account of the positive and negative consequences of the related human activity/product for both the environment and for human civilization.

“Balanced” means that you will explore the positive and negative aspects of the topic. For an “environmentally negative” activity or product (e.g., the Keurig), the negatives may be exaggerated in the popular news media, which you need to assess; likewise, economic or environmental benefits may be overlooked or downplayed. Similarly, the benefits of an “environmental positive” activity or product (e.g., cloth diapers) may also be exaggerated, while the costs are downplayed.

“Quantitative” means you will use numbers, graphs, charts and other tools in your discussion, not adjectives. Make sure that you consider and discuss each of the steps in the life cycle of the product (material extraction, manufacturing, packaging/transportation, use, and end of life), even though you may find that you can’t always obtain clear quantitative information for every one of the steps.


  • Marks (25% of course) are allotted to the writing & presentation process, as follows:
    • draft 6%
    • final essay 7%
    • presentation 6%
    • peer-review 3% + 3%
  • 1500 words, 6 pages text double spaced; 10 pt sans serif font; 1” margins
  • Figures & Tables & References extra
  • Late submission policy: FINAL ESSAY ONLY: 10% off per day up to 30% off


03-01 Lab: Assignment introduction, topic brainstorming, selection and signup

03-15 Lab: Bring rough 1st draft to the lab for peer review (me, TA + peers, Writing Centre)

03-18 Fri: Draft DUE (Brightspace upload; 11:59 pm) – comments back within 1 week

03-25 Fri: My feedback on your essay available

04-01 Fri: Final Essay DUE (BS upload; 11:59 pm; 10% off per day late; up to 30% off)

04-05 Lec: Student Presentations

04-05 Lab: Student Presentations

04-07 Lec: Backup Slot



– bring rough 1st draft to lab for peer review (point-form; costs & benefits; references)

– Participate in Lab Discussion / Q&A / Critique session on 03-15

DRAFT (6%):

– clear point form outlining facts and arguments is fine (using references)

– draft is about organization of ideas rather than the polishing of final language

– minimum 4 pages double spaced,

– 8-12 references

– figures & tables


– 1500 words

– 6 pages text double spaced

– 10 pt font (Sans Serif, i.e., without serifs, or extra embellishments like in Times New Roman)

– figures and references are extra as far as page length is concerned


– 12 minutes presentation, with slides

– 3 minutes Q&A & transition to next talk

– The marks will be a 50/50 average of my assessment vs. the peer assessment.


– attend all presentations

– formulate 1 written question for each presentation (more if you like)

– provide written feedback for each presentation: most enjoyable, most distracting (see below)


  • APA-style (used in Education, Psych and Science) for References list (at end of paper, outside of the 6-page count) and in-text citations,
  • e.g., “The work of Jones et al. (2001) has shown that…”
  • e.g., “… as has been shown by others (e.g., Jones et al., 2001).”
  • Find the details here:
  • “et al.” is an abbreviation of Latin “et alia”, meaning “and others”. Get the period right!
  • This is a good time to understand the difference between Latin “i.e.,” and “e.g.,” (“id est” meaning “that is” and “exempli gratia” meaning “for example”), and that they are followed by commas in the text of a formal paper
  • References represent a cross section of information sources, such as peer-reviewed journal articles, books, “official reports” from governments or “learned societies”, or websites with a date and an author
  • No more than 1-2 references in a list of 8-12 can be from websites without a date or author (e.g., Wikipedia), news publications (e.g., or personal communications


In science, information is very often presented with the use of tables and/or figures. You may include your own summaries of information in tables or figures you create yourself, or use tables and figures from other works, with proper citations, e.g., “Fig. 1 This figure shows something critical to my paper and is a modified version of Fig 6b found in Jones et al., (2001).”


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