Incorporating Design-for-Environment into the Undergraduate Product Design Curriculum

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Categories: GSI Online LibraryTeaching Effectiveness Award Essays

by Eric Masanet, Mechanical Engineering

Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2001

Problem Definition. One of the greatest challenges of the 21st century will be to develop technologies that will allow for continued industrial progress while preventing the further destruction of our global environment. One promising solution to this problem is to design “environmentally-friendly” products that minimize pollution, use less energy, and facilitate easy reuse and recycling. This approach — called design-for-environment — has gained significant momentum worldwide and is an invaluable skill for UCB design engineering students to acquire, both for their career potential and for the health of the planet. I was therefore surprised to learn, while serving as Spring 2000 GSI for UCB’s flagship product design course (ME110: Introduction to Product Development), that design-for-environment was not being taught as part of UCB’s undergraduate design curriculum, nor was it even introduced as an important concept to the design students. To address this problem, I initiated, developed and presented a comprehensive design-for-environment lecture that has since become a regular feature in the ME 110 course.

Teaching Method. Thanks to the generosity of the ME 110 course instructor, Dr. Charles Smith, I was given the opportunity to deliver a 90-minute design-for-environment lecture to his class during the Spring 2000 semester. Because the field is quite broad, the time was limited, and the subject matter was new to the students, I decided to focus my time on achieving just three key goals: 1) make the students aware that their design decisions do indeed have environmental consequences, 2) demonstrate to them how they can use design-for-environment to reduce these impacts, and 3) show them some real-world success stories of environmentally-friendly products to excite them about the possibilities. I also decided to make the lecture as interactive as possible to keep the students engaged and interested. I met my first objective by stepping the students through the simple design of a metal kitchen spoon and brainstorming with them the environmental impacts that can arise from the products materials, manufacturing, transportation and disposal — all factors which they can directly influence as product designers. To meet my second objective, I developed a few simple games that the students played in groups to use established design-for-environment techniques in an attempt to improve this design, with the groups presenting their results to the class to compare strategies. To accomplish the last objective, which was designed to really spark the students’ interest, I compiled a showcase of environmentally-friendly products that are available on the market to show the students how design-for-environment is being applied in the real world. I finished the lecture with a Q&A session so that the students could explore the issues in more detail, and to encourage continuous learning on the subject I provided them with a list of relevant books, journals, and websites from which they could get more information. Although this lecture could only provide a brief introduction to design-for-environment, I am hopeful that it fostered the crucial realization that design decisions do affect the environment and that it also armed the students with the knowledge they need to begin exploring this important concept on their own.

Assessment. To date I have presented the ME 110 design-for-environment lecture during the Spring 2000 and Fall 2000 semesters, and I am scheduled to lecture again to the Fall 2001 class. The fact that this lecture has become a repeat module in the course is very gratifying to me and suggests that the course instructor has found the lecture interesting and beneficial to his students. The feedback from the students thus far has also been extremely encouraging. The Q&A sessions after lecture have been lively with many students getting involved, and several students have followed up with me after class to learn more about the subject. I’ve found that many design students, like me, are concerned with environmental issues and have appreciated learning about how they can have a positive impact during their careers. I have used my experience thus far to continuously hone the material and product examples to be as interesting and engaging as possible, so Im hoping that my Fall 2001 lecture will be the best one yet.