Circular Design: new approaches on educating in design for sustainability

The concept of sustainable design as a specialism within design, business and manufacturing is not a new one. For years, educators have been advocating for a change in the way students are taught to design and to look at the world in which they live. In parallel, many other experts have been highlighting the difficulties caused by industrialization and global trade on the natural environment. Issues such as the dramatic impact of the global population on ecosystems; the strains on the global and local economic systems and the challenges meted by social inequity were starting to be raised by scientists, economists and even designers as early as the 1960s. These are now finally accepted as real problems for today’s students and professionals and for the world as a whole. They now provide clear opportunity both to graduates and to businesses as fields in which they can provide and develop expertise with a view to mitigating past and future problems.

There is growing evidence that design businesses have a keen appetite for graduates who have a sustainable literacy as an integral part of their undergraduate skill set. Unfortunately, many educators are at odds with each other as to how to effectively implement this subject. Opinions diverge from arguments on stand-alone courses, to others for embedding sustainable development inherently into all third level programs. While the most radical approaches re-build the entire curriculum with sustainable development underpinning it.

The evolution of the Design for Sustainability field has broadened its theoretical and practical scope over the years. While the first approaches were focusing predominantly on the technical side, the proceeding ones have recognized the crucial importance of the role of users, the resilience of communities, and more generally of the various actors and dynamics of socio-technical systems. Recent approaches to Design for Sustainability require designers to be equipped with a different set of expertise such as techniques to gather insights from users, news ways of satisfying customers and techniques to co-design with all stakeholders.

In order to address these shortcomings, the ‘Circular Design – Learning for Innovative Design for Sustainability (L4IDS)’ – an Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliance financed project – represents a strategic learning initiative in the field of Innovative Design for Sustainability. This initiative specifically promotes knowledge co-creation processes integrating different kind of entities and stakeholders for the development of innovative training materials. These materials will be disseminated as Open Educational Resources (OER), aimed at training students, faculty and enterprise staff. The project distinguishes itself by going beyond incremental innovations and the redesign of existing products. There is little value in curative solutions within an existing and unchanged business model or socio-technical system context. Circular Design-L4IDS aims to encourage academia and business to respond to global challenges by re-thinking the role of the design for sustainable innovation.

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