Researchers examine the environmental impacts of automobiles to eyewear

December 08, 2008

At first glance, a simple pair of eye glasses might seem benign to the environment - until one considers what goes into the production of frames and lenses. Réjean Samson, a professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering at Université de Montréal's affiliated school, École Polytechnique, says glasses and frames are more damaging to the environment than we imagine.

The aluminum used in frames is often composed of bauxite extracted somewhere in Africa and transformed in Quebec using another metal such as magnesium. Lenses are made of silicon, manipulated at high temperatures to ensure durability, and both procedures require considerable energy.

Before glasses reach consumers, Samson says, they go through designers, producers, vendors, optometrists and opticians. To reduce the environmental impact of those glasses, every step of their production needs to be evaluated. For example, is it really necessary to use aluminum? Maybe we could reduce the size of the lens?

Such questions are necessary to conserve our environment says Samson, who is also general director of the Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG), founded by École Polytechnique, HEC Montréal and the Université de Montréal. The CIRAIG also collaborates with a dozen institutions including the University of California at Berkley, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the University of Michigan.

Another question the CIRAIG examines is how cars affect the environment beyond oil changes, tire renewal and fuel consumption. Manufacturing a car is not without its environmental concerns, since components often travel long distances before arriving at an assembly plant. That's why a Mercedes car factory in Germany, which Samson recently visited, provides its designers entire environmental snapshots via computer.

"Sustainable development makes the connection between the economy, environment and society," says Samson. "We can't deal with ecology while ignoring human rights."

Another CIRAIG analysis was on telecommuting for Bell Canada. "We discovered that if an employee works from home, he saves on transportation costs, but other costs would be increased, such as heating and telephone," says Samson.
Other CIRAIG clients are Le Cirque du Soleil, Gaz de France, Environment Canada, City of Montreal and Cascades.

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About the Université de Montréal:

About the Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services:

About Polytechnique Montréal:

Media contact:

Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins
International press attaché
Université de Montréal
Telephone: 514-343-7593

University of Montreal

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