By Brandon Gertz, MEM’21

Nicholas School Communications Student Assistant

DURHAM, N.C. – Each year during basketball season, scores of undergraduate faithful pitch tents outside Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium for months on end, hoping to score a coveted ticket to see the Blue Devils play. Their tent city – called Krzyzewskiville, after head men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski – has become an annual fixture.

This year, though, an eye-catching new structure graced the Krzyzewskiville skyline.

It’s a tent, but not like any other. This one weighs eighty pounds, shaped by a sturdy metal frame draped with thick canvas. And it made a stir among the campers.

“Other students walking by always said they wish they had a tent like this,” said Ashley Marko, a senior biology major who lived in the special tent. “It stays dry when other ones fill up with water, and it stays in place when wind pushes the other tents around. Even when the snow came and other tents’ roofs collapsed, ours looked like a perfect gingerbread house.”

The reason why such an unusual tent ended up in “K-ville” involves a company and a course Marko is taking at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“The tent was sent to the Nicholas School by a North Carolina-based company called Diamond Brand Gear,” explained Marko. “They were interested in having my Environmental Life-Cycle Assessment class study the tent as one of our projects.”

So what is an environmental life-cycle assessment, exactly?

“A life-cycle assessment is when we analyze a product, like a certain model of tent or shoe, and see how it affects the environment,” said Marko.

“What’s special about the process is that it teaches us about environmental impacts across the product’s entire life span, from cradle to grave,” she said. “We’ll be using a special software called GaBi to model what eco-impacts are caused by the tent throughout its lifespan and which phase of the tent’s life cause the most impact. That includes fuel for transportation, raw materials, what happens at the end of the tent’s useful life and even energy sources that the factory creating the product uses, so it really covers everything.”

The assessment gives manufacturers valuable information about which aspects of their products or processes are environmentally friendly and which could be improved upon. These assessments are especially important for companies like Diamond Brand, whose outdoorsy customers are very environmentally conscious.

Marko and her classmates in the course, which was taught by instructor Carol Hee, benefitted as well.

“Taking on these assessments as students gives us concrete, practical skills that we’ll be able to use in our future careers,” Marko said. “The things we do are exactly like the process an environmental consulting company would use. It’s a little intimidating at first to talk with industry professionals about what we’ve learned about their products, but it’s definitely a cool experience!”

When asked about why K-ville was chosen as the place to study the Diamond Brand tent, Marko smiled.

“We weren’t sure where we were going to put it at first,” she said. “But it’s my senior year and I really wanted basketball tickets. I didn’t have a tent yet, so we asked John Delaloye, the CEO of Diamond Brand, whether he’d be willing to let my friends and I use this one. He loved the idea! His wife used to study at Duke, so they’re both huge Blue Devil fans.”