Activity 6 Sustainability

Q: How can you become a more sustainable practitioner? What does this mean for you?

A: Using Elkinton’s (1998) Triple Bottom Line for sustainable practice, broad areas to consider for more sustainable practice are indicated below.



Q: What sort of learning and teaching strategies can you introduce to support your philosophy of sustainability?

A: My philosophy of teaching sustainability are indicated below along with the teaching strategies



Q: What are your organisation’s priorities for sustainability?

A: Otago Polytechnic includes Sustainability as a part of their institutional strategy. The priorities include:

  • Community engagement – Local iwi, various local community groups and industry partners
  • Encourage lecturers to instill sustainability values to students so that they are nurtured to be sustainable practitioners,
  • Review the use of resources such as audit of electricity use and waste management.

The polytechnic also addresses sustainability through a number of sustainability initiatives, such as the Living Campus, the Center for Sustainability as well as employing sustainability consultants to improve current practices.

Q: How can you design strategies that fit with the concepts of effective pedagogy?

Assessment Example: Year 1 Product Design

People and Sustainability 30% of Whole year’s Work


“Every year, New Zealanders send around 2.5 million tons of waste to landfill that is over a ton of rubbish per household. The majority of this waste is not reprocessed or recycled, and doesn’t break down over time.  Disposing of waste at landfills is a sign that we’re not using our resources efficiently, and are contributing directly to pollution. To improve the environmental future of New Zealand, we need to start taking responsibility for the waste we produce by finding more effective and efficient ways to reduce, reuse, recycle or reprocess it.”

Ministry for the Environment, New Zealand Government, Retrieved 20 February 2014,

Product designers are responsible for designing and producing waste that ends up in the landfill. At the same time, product designers are in the position to make a significant difference to this problem through designing more sustainable alternatives.


Identify an everyday product that makes a large contribution to the landfill.

Analyse user behaviour and user interaction surrounding this product – redesign the product with consideration to the user behaviour.

Assess the material makeup of the product and identify areas for improvement.

Redesign the product using sustainability strategies

Cooperative Learning Activity

Scarfie Army Volunteer Activity for Keep NZ Clean to collect rubbish from Castle Street, Dunedin. The students in this class volunteered to collect rubbish from the street. The individuals were responsible for waste separation and weighing the waste at the end of the collection.

This activity carried out at the start of Year 1 gave the class an opportunity to carry out a practical work get to know each other. Cleaning Castle Street was a big job, therefore, this activity gave the class a shared purpose that would have been difficult to achieve by themselves.


Experiential Learning Activities

a)      Ideo Cards are set of 51 cards to prompt design research and prototyping.

Assess personal waste through using “A Day in the Life” Ideo Card: Catalogue your activities and products you threw out throughout an entire day.

Using this data identify a product that you could redesign to reduce the impact to landfill.


b)      Waste Audit

Ask students to participate in waste audit of public waste. In the previous years, students were involved in auditing public waste from the farmers market. The farmers market has three centralised waste bins which ask visitors to separate recyclable, organic and non-recyclable rubbish. Students looked at the contamination in each of the waste bins, separated the waste correctly and weighed each category of waste. Students could then use this data to identify areas of possibility for design intervention towards waste minimisation.


These two are examples of experiential learning that are important aspect of learning for both sustainability issues as well as for students to consider the end users of their design projects. These activities can make the projects more real while also highlight areas of priority for design intervention.


Inquiry Learning Activity

Having done some activities in experiential learning, students can now investigate opportunities for waste minimisation. Students are asked to frame their own design problem and design brief for waste minimisation.


This is an important aspect of instilling sustainable value to students. At times students become overwhelmed by the enormity of sustainability issues at stake. Considering various issues and deciding on a manageably sized design brief allows a good level of thinking for students.


Reflective Learning

As a part of the assessment, students are asked to write a reflective summary on both reflection in action that has been documented during their product and reflection on the outcome of their project.


Some prompts given for this activity are:

a)      What was your brief and how have you met your own brief?

b)      What are the areas for future improvement?

c)      Which sustainability strategies did you apply and how were they useful?


Reflective writing has become an important part of our assessment in the recent years. Students are usually acutely aware of areas that they can improve, some to the extent that their reflection mirrors the assessors’ comments for the assessment. The reflective writing is also a useful tool to tie the learning and design studio work together. For example in the sustainability module, we teach several practical strategies for developing more sustainable product. For example Dematerialisation prompts a product to be made with less material and design for use asks to design products that encourage longevity of use. Asking students to reflect on which of the strategies they used and the usefulness of the application ties the practical and the theoretical work together.



Design Outcomes

This project is run over 4 weeks in the first semester of year 1 and in some ways does not give step by step guide to design glamorous outcomes. Instead, students are asked to consider a vast range of issues relating to product design and waste minimisation. As a result the outcomes are often early concepts of range of possibilities for future development. Some students consider re-design systems to reduce waste while others resign products towards more sustainable counterpart. I believe that the value of teaching sustainability for design is in engaging students to think, make meaningful decisions and to understand the complexities involved in design for sustainability.


2 thoughts on “Activity 6 Sustainability

  1. Machiko this is a wonderful description of your philosophical approach and how you integrate sustainability in your teaching practice. I really like the experiential learning activities which through their co-operative approach are designed to meet the four aspects of effective pedagogy when educating about sustainability. I have a suggestion and this relates to the prompts for reflective learning. You may already have included some of this. These aspects could be done through a process of reflective writing and peer dialogue as together this helps to make the reflection more meaningful.

    Against each of your prompts, I have added some comments about how deeper aspects of reflection might be encouraged.
    a) What was your brief and how have you met your own brief? – Description only at present unless you prompt them further about the ‘how’.
    – To encourage descriptive reflection, you could prompt them using Step 1 of the Three-Step Reflective Framework I developed. Getting students to express their feelings and articulate what they thought about something brings in the reflective element.
    1.1 What did you do, know, feel, think, need?
    1.2 What decisions did you make?
    • Outline your actions associated with this.
    • Comment on your thoughts and emotions at the time.
    • Indicate what helped or hindered.

    b) What are the areas for future improvement? – Actions. To make it reflective you need to ask why they decided that these areas need improving.
    – What did they learn during the process that led to these actions?
    – How this might this learning change their future decisions and why?

    To encourage critical reflection, you could ask how these improvements might influence or are linked to socio-economic, political, historical and cultural considerations in the wider context of product design, e.g. power relationships, social justice, traditions etc.

    c) Which sustainability strategies did you apply and how were they useful? This is an analysis of what they did. To make it more reflective, you could ask them to explain why they chose the strategies and why they were useful?
    Some prompts might be:
    – Comment on what worked and what did not, and why.
    – Outline what could have been done better or differently.
    – What assumptions were made and why did they influence your choice of strategy?
    – How did these strategies fit with current research evidence and theory?

    I would really like to know what you think of my suggestions.

  2. Thanks for your generous feedback. Your framework for reflective practice will come very handy in the programme, especially as we try to integrate reflective practice as a key part of our assessments. As you suggest, asking students to explain “why” is really useful especially in the early years of undergraduate course.

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