3 Schools / 3 Disciplines / 3 Educators On April 24, we held the first in a series of webcasts on how Sustainable Minds is being used in education. Featuring three educators from three different disciplines at three leading institutions, each demonstrated and discussed the use of Sustainable Minds in their curriculum, expansion in their programs and the implications for the future. The range of disciplines represented by the presenters illustrates the interest and need for teaching life cycle thinking and action to all types of students – business, design and engineering – to prepare them for taking on the challenges and opportunities in the greener product economy.
These educators’ stories illustrate that schools will increasingly attract students in response to industry demand, and manufacturers creating greener competitive advantage will recruit students who can execute on that strategy. Each presenter took a unique approach to help students integrate environmental sustainability into a product development education.
Following is a summary of the three presentations.
Babson College: Life Cycle Thinking
Sinan Erzurumlu, Assistant Professor in Technology and Operations Management, leads a course titled "Business and the Environment", which is focused on a life cycle approach for sustainable innovation. Students are immersed in consumer choice projects, using SM to analyze consumer product choices, even validating and defending their own choices. As they gain competence in using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), they begin to make critical business decisions that impact the environmental sustainability of product performance. One student launched a company based on a product idea that matured as a result of taking this course. Professor Erzurumlu also observed that a multi-stakeholder involvement requires software that is easy to understand and share by all, and SM admirably met these criteria. SM’s convenience, ease of use, power to model and measure performance, ability to credibly support analyses and recommendations, and flexibility for exploring alternatives, all contributed to his choice of SM as the enabling technology for his course.
Further validation came from his students who, having gained a Life Cycle Thinking approach, expressed higher ability to pursue sustainability focused business opportunities by rethinking consumerism, thinking holistically, and redefining value. Babson, for their part, are entering into new curriculum collaborations with other institutions like Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), who also use SM.
Georgia Institute of Technology: Ecodesign
Richard Braunstein, Adjunct Professor and Director of Product Development at YKK AP, takes a design professional’s approach, focusing his ‘Introduction to Sustainable Product Design’ course on the use of LCA in the product design process. All aspects of a sustainable product design process are covered, from raw material and bulk processing through the manufacture, assembly, product use, and end of use choices (collection, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycle, treatment, landfill). Students use SM as an evaluation tool to assess decisions and alternatives in the iterative design process for an array of consumer products, from kitchen toasters to handheld power drills. Mr. Branustein views SM as a mutual win. Students learn to integrate environmental considerations throughout the design process using SM, and as an educator and professional he has discovered new ways to dispel the myths surrounding single-attribute ‘greenwashing’, where a product is touted as ‘greener’ in one aspect while remaining environmentally harmful in other aspects.
Mr. Braunstein had high praise for SM, citing its user-friendly interface, ever-expanding material and process database, easy web access, and rapid turn-around and reliability on delivering product assessments. Over the 10 years that Mr. Braunstein has taught the course, he has heard from a number of former students who have gone into industry and brought about change, and who cite his course as a key factor.
Saint Louis University: A Sustainable Mindset
Sri Condoor, Ph.D., Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the Center for Sustainability, uses SM in his course titled ‘Instilling a Sustainable Mindset’. His students engage with industry resources to design, test, build and demonstrate sustainable products that fit the use case for a target buyer in a particular country and market. For this webcast, he selected a student project whose product focus is a solar powered oven. SM was used to determine the carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. One student observed: “…our team’s process has changed to more of a global, innovative, sustainable mindset.” Dr. Condoor’s students gain hands-on learning in green product development and, like our earlier presenter from Babson, Dr. Condoor complimented SM as a great tool for the highly complex analysis and comparison processes inherent in product design. Echoing the two previous presenters, he noted SM’s ease of adoption: “We actually give students zero instruction in how to use SM, and we have had no problem with (its adoption)”.
A new breed of managers is emerging, who understand the global, social and environmental issues surrounding products and business, who think with new mental models, act with different motives, and use Sustainable Minds as a platform for innovation.
Watch for the next two webcasts in this series, where we will be featuring more educators demonstrating the value of Sustainable Minds in greener product curriculum, and a key catalyst in preparing students for today’s greener product marketplace.
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