Sustainable Design = Good Design

Most design programs recognize the importance of sustainable design, and many offer one or two courses that address specific social and environmental issues or sustainable design in general. A few design programs offer a full range of curriculum in sustainable design, allowing students to earn certificates and degrees – these are specialized and rare. Most design programs have single projects within a semester-long course that start to address sustainability issues in design.

This one-off approach has clear limitations. Sustainability needs to be integrated as a critical lens in design, not to be considered as an extra-curricular concern, or as an elective. In fact, sustainable design should be synonymous with good design. As the tenets of sustainability become more blended with standard design education, there is great value in modeling a core sustainability curriculum to provide the essential foundation and context for this work.

The core sustainability curriculum is best designed by fully integrating sustainability into thinking, doing, and applying:

  • How to think: systems/design/critical thinking
  • How to do: skills (methods, materials, research)
  • How to apply: experiential learning

The purpose of design education is to graduate skillful designers with a fundamental understanding of sustainability principles, in theory and in application, capable of working in multidisciplinary teams, and aware of the context and systems, which design addresses. This may be accomplished by evolving a curriculum, which focuses on design and sustainability in the context of systems literacy, skills, and experiential learning.

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