Adv Technical Presentations. Project 3 “Systems Thinking: Life Cycle Thinking”




  • Understand the principles of communicating complex information to non-technical listeners.
  • Build and deliver an interesting talk based on these principles.
  • Answer audience questions that arise during the presentation.
  • Use overhead transparencies to illustrate your message.
  • TIME : 10 to 12 minutes

Note to the Evaluator

For  this  project  the  speaker  is  asked  to  deliver  an  interesting  speech,  in  which complex  information  is  conveyed  to  a  non-technical  audience.    The  speaker should  entertain  audience  questions  as  they  arise  during  the  presentation,  and use  overhead  transparencies  as visual aids.  It is suggested you read the entire project before hearing the speech.  In addition to your oral evaluation, please complete this evaluation form by rating the speaker in each category, using this guide: 1 = excellent; 2 = very good; 3 = satisfactory;  4  =  should  improve;  5  = must improve. Also, use the space on the right for comments.  Comment only in those categories where special praise or specific recommendations for improvement are appropriate.

Evaluation Guide

Category Rating (circle one)


Comments/ Recommendations
Topic selection (Interesting, relevant) 1     2     3     4      5
Absence of complexity (easy to understand) 1     2     3     4      5
Opening (attention-getting) 1     2     3     4      5
Organization (clear, logical) 1     2     3     4      5
Support material (examples, comparisons that clarify and simplify) 1     2     3     4      5
Transitions (smooth, easy to follow) 1     2     3     4      5
Language (simple, without technical jargon) 1     2     3     4      5
Responses to audience (questions answered simply and directly) 1     2     3     4      5
Visual aids (bold, simple, visible, smoothly handled) 1     2     3     4      5
Delivery (vocal, variety, body language, etc.) 1     2     3     4      5


Systems Thinking: Life Cycle Thinking

Bedford Speakers 31st March 2016

Let us play a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Rock breaks Scissors, but Paper beats Rock. What is best for the environment a paper shopping bag or a plastic bag? [Holds aloft two bags] When we consider the plastic bag we may well imagine the oil that goes into plastics and that plastics can end up in the environment and in the food chain. Make no mistake these are not good things. The paper bag on the other hand is brown and brown seems right. Brown is like the soil, it is like recycled, and it is like the shabby chic of an eco-warrior complete with brown beard, sandals and muesli cereals.

Recycled paper is biodegradable and natural things can degrade naturally and safely, EXCEPT when you throw them into a landfill. In landfill degradation occurs in airless putrid conditions causing fermentation and microbial digestion that release methane gas.  In 1986 in the village of Loscoe in Derbyshire a landfill gas explosion caused extensive damage taking out one house completely leaving three people in hospital. Methane is also 21-84 times more potent a greenhouse gas than fossil fuel carbon dioxide.

Confused? Yes and you have every right to be as environmental burdens are very complex and conflicting. Toastmaster, Fellow Toastmasters and most welcome Guests I am going to tell you about a way of thinking that helps get to the nub of the matter. I am going to talk about systems and systems thinking.

[Places Start Wars Clock and Toy Truck on view]

Which of these two is a system? The clock or the truck? Why?

Yes the clock is a system and the truck is not? The clock goes about a purposeful activity pretty much regardless of me. It has a boundary between system and the rest of existence. It contains parts that are very precisely connected to each other. It is a closed system as it takes in energy as batteries and gives out energy as information. The Truck on the other hand has parts, connectedness and boundary. Yet, left alone it does nothing, takes nothing from the environment and gives nothing back. It is not a system EXCEPT when I play with it then together we become a system. I put energy in as work and get energy out in the form of a good time.

Can you think of other systems out there? There are closed systems that exchange energy, open systems that exchange matter and energy, and perhaps isolated systems that exchange neither. There are systems inside systems. There are natural systems and there are cultural ones.

Sooner or later we arrive that the most important system of all the Earth and straight away we learn valuable lessons [Earth Slide]. There is no away to which we can throw waste. The connectedness of systems mean that too often we just pass the buck and that can come back to haunt us or our children.

We thought about systems pervading life, but there is another way to understand environmental burdens and that is to think about life cycles [Life Cycle Slide]. We are all familiar with life stories. We can all say what we were when we were children, young adults, etc. What we are today is that entire story [eg Erica]. We are a package. So too is this plastic cup [hold aloft a plastic cup]. In using it we are using it entire life cycle including its after life. This perspective is known as the cradle-grave –[LCA slide]. It helps ensure we have the complete picture. If we place the product or service into a systems context and account for all of its exchanges to and from the environment then we are able to make a full environmental Life Cycle Assessment. An LCA forces you to account for dumping wastes and dumping burdens outside of your system.

If we return to the paper and plastic bags and conduct an LCA we find that a kilogram of paper backs is better for the environment than a kilogram of plastic one.  However, we use bags by the bag to fulfil their function and not by the kilogram. Bag for bag it costs three and half times as much energy and environmental burdens to use a paper bag compared to a plastic one.

Let us look at some other examples of lifecycle thinking:

[Passes around red roses] What is best to give a lady on Valentine’s Day a rose grown in the Netherlands or one imported from Kenya by air freight? This question explore out of season perishable produce. The carbon dioxide burden of the Kenyan rose is one sixteenth that of the Netherlands one. When we allow for the air freight placing the carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere the Kenyan one still has only one sixth the global warming burden of the Netherlands rose produced under glass.

[Hold aloft coffee jar] Where do you think the greatest environmental burdens are tea or coffees are? Is it in the hills of the coffee plantations, in the roasting houses and mills, in the transport and packaging, or on the shop shelf? None of these it is the moment that you switch the kettle on. The minimum fill line on most kettles is 3-4 cups to boil, often, for just one cup and most of the time the Kettle is filled way above the minimum.

[Hold aloft two example writing pads] What is best type of high quality ‘bright white’ paper recycled or new paper? It is the new paper because to create high quality recycled we have to use bleaches and deinking processes which need dyes containing heavy metals. Thus, we create a toxic waste stream. Whereas in Europe our paper is sourced trees that are grown as crops and do not constitute deforestation of ancient native forests.

[Act Locally Think Globally. slide] This is the central message. Sustainable lifestyle choices come down to this. Systems Thinking and Life Cycle Thinking are good tools to help to grasp the bigger picture, to see how things may play out over time, what the knock on consequences are, and perhaps to question how a particular good or service is used in our lives.

[quote slide] Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very beginning that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and in the country around it. Rub it in. Aldous Hulxley


Reflections & Feedback


  • Though provoking subject
  • The audience did engage with the messages. It had very powerful social story because it is also about how we behave as consumers.
  • The props and audience interaction were very good
  • The use of Prezi to display Visual Aids was a novelty
  • The conceptual systems slide was the most powerful
  • It won the best use of humour


  • Ensure the visual aids are smooth and don’t interrupt the speech flow and distract.
  • Many of the visuals made quote trivial points and it would be better to focus on fewer stronger more thought provoking images.
  • Practice and edit to avoid timing overruns. This might have been far too big a subject to get into 12 minutes
  • People tended to lose the message about systems and the toys were also sometimes interpreted as models of real world machines.
  • The speech didn’t really illicit questions and that might be a force of habit from Toastmasters.
  • The speech opening would have been strengthened using more of the intriguing examples earlier to hook in more attention.


Leyla Acaroglu Life Cycle Assessment – 6 minute crash course


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