Do the right thing- combat our unsustainable future with design education



Design Education Strategy


  • globalisation, ethics, sustainability

Governments, policy makers and environmental activists across the globe, entered the 21st century with a renewed focus in combatting the impact of humanities unsustainable practices. To achieve this goal a paradigm shift towards being environmentally responsible and accountable is required in which humanity will have to adopt radical personal change. This paper therefore aims to address the unsustainable future that humanity faces through investigating the role of education as agents of change in motivating sustainable practices and inspiring personal, ethical conduct amongst university students.


The research aim is achieved through conducting both a literature review and reflecting on a sustainable design based student project. The literature review commences with a reflection on the role and contribution of education in offering sustainable design education programmes through introducing the original six goals of environmental education as published in 1976 in the Belgrade Charter: A Global Framework of Environmental Education. The acquisition of appropriate sustainable design knowledge, awareness and skill is further investigated through presenting the sustainable curriculum developer, Paul Murray’s (2011), teaching and learning approach that focuses on ‘The Sustainable Self’. The literature reflection finally includes the moral development research conducted by James Rest (1986) which identifies in a Four-Component model how decision makers conduct moral decisions and explains the value and benefits of offering ethics programmes to students.


This paper will then discuss a project which aimed to develop design students personal accountability towards sustainable design as well as their moral judgement and decision making processes. The project tested the assumptions that a teaching and learning process can contribute to personal growth,  improvement  in  moral  judgement  and  ethical  conduct  which  in  turn  contributes  to developing design students that can take accountability for their design decisions and actions. In the paper, I will discuss the outcome of the project and focus on the behavioural changes identified by students in their personal feedback. The conclusion includes suggestions to improve the project through applying the goals of environmental education, Paul Murray’s curriculum suggestions and Rest’s framework to the context of the programme and the particular teaching and learning environment.


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