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Built to last

7th July 2022

The value of durability

Long-term thinking will become increasingly important when procuring educational equipment if schools are to meet carbon targets, argues Frank Campbell.

Challenging the throw-away culture

In the past 10 years concerns about the environment have grown to the extent that we are all now aware (or should be aware!) that we are on the precipice of disaster.

One area of action, often overlooked, that can be taken to cut carbon emissions is to repair equipment rather than replace it. We simply cannot go on throwing away equipment when it goes wrong when it can easily be repaired.

World governments know this. In the UK, US and the EU, governments have been taking action: as of 1st July 2021, companies have been required to manufacture and supply spare parts that will allow repairs over a much longer period than had hitherto been possible. Further, companies involved in design and manufacture will also be responsible for producing equipment that can be repaired and recycled.

At long last, it has been recognised that we must minimise our throwaway culture.

A well-established philosophy

For some companies, this is not new, as they have always taken a long-term approach to supplying equipment. Since the 1960s and the birth of the Nuffield Science Project, a number of UK companies, for example, have designed and produced equipment which met high spec criteria, is built to last. These companies have also been influential in developing science teaching and learning in the UK and around the world and their equipment can still be found in school laboratories in 2022, 40 years after their purchase.

Good design

The essence of good design recognises current and likely future requirements and instead of taking short term approaches, builds future proofing into manufacture. We have now come full-circle and longevity in products is now the buzzword around the world as environmental considerations are taken into account. It is hoped that built in obsolescence will soon become a thing of the past – but how long will it take before this really sustainable approach becomes the norm?

A dual responsibility

From the early work with Nuffield in the UK, companies with a long-term approach to manufacturing educational products have worked in partnership with teachers, technicians, curriculum developers and other influential bodies to ensure that durable and effective equipment was being supplied in a way that is now recognised as environmentally responsible.

However, theirs is only one half of what has proved to be an enduring partnership as customers also have a role to play. There is now much more awareness of a school’s carbon footprint and buying decisions are increasingly being influenced by the need to identify products that are not only reasonably priced to drive tight school budgets further, but whose value is now calculated over a much longer period and in other terms, especially environmental. Issues related to workers protection, low pay, the use of nonrecyclable plastics, use of carbon-based fuel as well as the massive carbon footprint in the production of cheaper goods are becoming increasingly important to buyers.

Continuing innovation

Established companies who have embodied a long-term philosophy continue to innovate with increasingly efficient production methods. Reluctant to resort to subcontracting in the first place, they prefer to innovate in order to keep costs under control. In the early 2020s escalating freight and labour costs have also diminished the price gap between durable and less durable equipment. This in turn has eased many hard decisions for schools when purchasing equipment.

And that’s as it should be.

Feature Image: Kumpan Electric on Unsplash
Support Images: by John Cameron on Unsplash & The Eco Science Bench (ESB)

The Eco Science Bench is the only science and ICT laboratory powered by renewable energy. It can therefore provide science and ICT teaching facilities in any location where mains power is unavailable, unstable or unreliable. It is ideal for developing countries that see science and technology education as a priority.

This article was published by INTERNATIONAL Teacher Magazine (ITM) 1st July 2022.