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Teaching Green: Integrating Sustainability Principles into I&E Curriculum

Innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) will play a significant role in solving current and future global environmental issues. Yet there’s a tremendous need to prepare tomorrow’s inventors and designers for these challenges—today.

Fortunately, more and more educators and higher ed institutions are rising to the challenge. They realize that, in order to prepare tomorrow’s innovators to invent green, they must deeply embed sustainable principles into product design, STEM, or entrepreneurship courses.

In response to the growing need for models for sustainability-related coursework, we’re developing resources – in addition to grants and training – to make it easier to adopt inventing green principles into I&E curriculum. We are working closely with sustainable design strategist, Jeremy Faludi, to create Tools for Design and Sustainability, an online resource to help student inventors understand and apply sustainable design approaches in their work.


The resource includes a section outlining how the content can easily be incorporated into curriculum. Below is a highlight of content from the Tools for Design and Sustainability that demonstrates how they can be integrated into existing courses on engineering and physics, industrial and product design, and business. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) requires engineering programs to include environmental and social sustainability as real-world design constraints in curriculum. The Tools for Design and Sustainability offers several easy drop-in options to address these requirements.

Teaching Green: Engineering and Physics Courses

How can sustainability be embedded into an already packed curriculum? Below are common topics covered in engineering and physics courses along with examples from the Tools for design and Sustainability guide of modular exercises that can be integrated into these curricula. Visit this section of the Tools for Design and Sustainability for more exercises to embed into courses.

Teaching Friction
For introductory physics classes that cover friction, the Energy Effectiveness section offers a short video called Reduce Friction Energy Losses In Design. Use the video to start a discussion on the topic, or ask students to watch it on their own and present solutions to problems they’re working on in the course.

Power vs. Energy
To help physics students understand the difference between power and energy, assign the Energy Effectiveness Exercise, Calculating Energy Priorities, to show that in an everyday microwave oven, the amount of energy it uses sitting idle may actually be greater than the energy it uses cooking.

Reduce Material Use
If you’re teaching a mechanical engineering class on statics, all of the content from the Lightweighting section is useful. Use the Lightweighting exercise to help students brainstorm ways to reduce material use in a product.

Teaching Green: Industrial and Product Design Courses

Historically, sustainability was an afterthought in design courses. All of the Tools for Design and Sustainability content can be easily incorporated into industrial and product design courses, making the concept a core curricular focus.

Studio Classes
Replacing high-environmental-impact materials with greener options is a key activity in sustainable design. Use the Swapping in Greener Materials exercise to help students brainstorm material substitutions to make their product more environmentally-friendly.

Conceptual Design Classes
For user experience coursework, the Changing Lifestyles exercise can encourage your students to integrate persuasive design that changes user behavior towards more sustainable lifestyles.

Teaching Green: Business Courses

Sustainability principles aren’t just good for the environment; they can help a business stand out in a crowded market as well as positively impact the bottom line. Several components of the Tools for Design and Sustainability can help weave sustainable thinking into core business curriculum.

Supply Chain Management
The Finding Greener Materials exercise is a practical addition to supply chain management classes, teaching students how to source materials that optimize the sustainability of the whole system.

Energy Economics
Energy use becomes a problem when it drains resources and pollutes. Use the Energy Effectiveness exercise and example to help your students understand how to reduce energy impacts.

There are many ways to integrate sustainability into I&E coursework. The Tools for Design and Sustainability offers a useful guide to help you easily embed green concepts into a wide variety of courses. Access the guide here to start incorporating sustainable design thinking into your courses. For an overview of Faludi’s curriculum, watch a recording of his webinar, Teaching Green: Integrating Sustainability into Your Curriculum.

Learn more ways to incorporate sustainability principles into your curriculum. Come to OPEN 2019 from March 28-30, 2019 in Washington, D.C. View the schedule and register today. Some content in this article first appeared on the VentureWell blog. Read the original article here