‘Edtech has the potential to counteract the climate crisis’

Genna Ash speaks to Leon Lindblad, founder and MD of CFA Trading, about some of today’s most innovative and sustainable uses of edtech


Name: Leon Lindblad

Job title: MD, CFA Trading

LinkedIn: @cfa-trading

3D printing

Q. CFA Trading’s printing department is regarded as one of the best in the UK. How does the company harness its experience and expertise in 3D printing, in particular, for the benefit of the education sector?

We are so passionate about helping as many people as possible gain a better understanding of the power 3D printing holds. Our dedicated Research & Development team are exceptionally innovative and willing to learn and push boundaries; we are forever challenging ourselves, which has been integral to our success. Making 3D printing easy and affordable for the education sector is our main objective so we have devised multiple ways of doing this. Working in partnership with secondary schools, students have visited our premises and had hands-on experience using our printers and learning how to create designs that will work well as 3D models. It’s been great to see young people already demonstrating excellent skills in 3D printing and they just need to be given more regular opportunities to use this equipment.

Q. How are perceptions changing around the topic of 3D printers/printing in schools?

Until now, 3D printing has been a difficult area for many schools to get on board with, owing to three common challenges: the first is cost, with both the expensive initial purchase of the hardware and the ongoing expense of buying new plastic filament, which can be as much as £50 per kg. The second challenge is that once the equipment is purchased, schools often find themselves without adequate tech support, should any issues arise. This means non-specialists are left with the daunting prospect of trying to troubleshoot for tech issues they are not equipped to deal with. Then there’s the concern about environmental waste. Nobody wants to be actively contributing to plastic ending up as landfill. When it comes to students using 3D printers, if they make a misprint or even if they do print an item as intended but no longer want that 3D model at a later date, these items are viewed as waste and thrown away. When you combine the cost, lack of tech support and environmentally damaging one-use plastic waste issue, it’s understandable that 3D printing can be viewed as frivolous spending within limited education budgets. Schools that do have 3D printing facilities often have to use them sparingly, if at all.

We are turning 3D printing on its head. First and foremost, our passion for protecting natural resources for a cleaner, greener planet lies at the heart of our 3D printing approach. Using recycled plastic is key to this technology being sustainable. We take discarded plastic, shred it, and turn it into 100% recycled plastic pellets or filament. The pellets can be used to make filament, or for schools without a filament maker, we can provide ready-made recycled plastic filament for as little as £5 per kg (when purchased as part of a subscription with us). This recycled plastic is exactly the same quality as new plastic, opening up the possibility for frequent 3D printing at a really affordable rate. Schools can send any misprints or unwanted 3D models back to us; we will use them to create more filament and give schools a credit towards their next purchase of recycled filament. Together with the environmental and financial benefits of 3D printing the CFA way, we offer technical support to help schools get the very best out of their equipment.

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Q. A big issue in edtech today is the fact that teachers don’t feel they are receiving enough training and support in the implementation of edtech. With 3D printing still being considered an ‘emerging’ technology, how can edtech providers educate teachers who are willing to embrace tools like 3D printers in the classroom?

Educators have so many pressures and responsibilities, so it’s important that the 3D printing arena is made as straightforward and accessible as possible. As such, one of our collaborative projects currently in development is the creation of a training resources pack that includes lesson plans and activities, specifically tailored to expanding students’ 3D printing design skills, experience, and understanding in a simple, easy manner. Learning this technology should be exciting and inspiring, not laborious, so ensuring teachers are equipped with ready-made resources they can use with very little background knowledge or lesson preparation time will help ease this process. Another key factor is helping teachers understand why 3D printing is so important. Imagine a future where instead of buying parts online, it’s the norm to just 3D print something you need – like a doorstop, a cup or the lid for the battery component on a remote control. The more we embrace 3D printing now, using recycled plastic, the better we are preparing future generations for the world ahead.

Q. What’s the most innovative use of 3D printing in the classroom you have seen thus far?

We had the pleasure of Ballard School visiting us recently, and one of their students (aged 15) had designed and made his own, fully working animatronics cat. He had 3D-printed all the plastic parts himself and wired in all of the electronics to make it move. We were astounded by his talent and I offered him a job on the spot! He will be joining us for a summer job in July, before starting his A-Levels.

Q. Another big issue in education – and the world at large – is sustainability. How much is edtech contributing to the climate crisis, and how can education providers strive to ‘be green’ in both technology procurement and use?

Edtech actually has the potential to counteract the climate crisis. However, purchasing brand new equipment when there are perfectly good refurbished alternatives, and using new raw material resources when there are recycled options of the same quality is where we currently stumble. Little changes add up and make a big difference collectively – even down to which suppliers you partner with. We all need to get much smarter about making sustainability our first priority. This doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult, but we need to freely share knowledge to help everyone become better educated about sustainable alternatives. If we can encourage MATs to start initiatives throughout all of their schools, whereby each school is given responsibility for a different sustainability focus area, this would have a far-reaching impact on the environment.

Q. What’s in store for greener edtech in schools over the next five years?

We need to create a cultural shift, moving away from the linear economy way of living where we take materials, make something, use it once and create excessive waste in the process. Instead, the circular economy needs to become our everyday way of life, encouraging us to refurbish, re-use and recycle, with recycling being our last resort option. The next five years in edtech will be pivotal in creating this change in thinking. Using recycled materials, investing in refurbished technology instead of buying new and making this our social norm is the direction edtech urgently needs to take for the longevity of our planet.

1 Comment
  • Lucy Paulson
    Lucy Paulson

    Speaking as someone who has experienced first hand many of the issues mentioned in this article when it comes to implementing 3D Printing projects in schools, I love this greener approach to 3D Printing and the collaborative philosophy embodied by CFA trading with the Education sector.

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