Design for Sustainability and Social Impact

Design 45 – A Crowdsourced Project to Reduce Environmental Impact

A crowd-sourced project involving 45 research teams implemented experimental designs to answer the question how competition affects moral behavior. RTs provided data to project coordinators, and the effects of each design were analyzed with two separate meta-analyses using preregistered analytic approaches.

Each design was randomized in batches of four participants to one of the 90 (45 designs x 2 treatments) individual experimental conditions. Attrition rates were relatively low, but sizable fractions of participants dropped out from some experiments.

Design for sustainability

Design for sustainability is the practice of using a range of techniques to reduce environmental impact. This includes incorporating renewable resources, minimizing waste, and connecting people with the natural environment. It also requires that designs be made differently, and that the teams designing them be set up in a different way. This is a significant shift for many companies, and requires them to adopt new skills, processes, and tools.

The earliest concerns about resource limits and the impact of design on the environment are often traced back to Buckminster Fuller’s teachings and work. Later, Victor Papanek pushed for transformation of the design profession to focus on ecological and social change.

Design for sustainability requires careful consideration of trade-offs. For example, a product’s use of recycled materials may reduce its footprint, but the energy it takes to transport them might offset this benefit. To make informed choices, designers need access to detailed information about the environmental impacts of different materials and manufacturing processes. This is often available through life cycle assessment (LCA).

Design for social impact

In this unit you collaborate with organisations in the public sphere on design projects that focus on instigating social change. You will use your design skills, processes and technologies to research and prototype projects that challenge the status quo. You will learn how to collaborate and work with others from different backgrounds in a diverse and collaborative context.

While it has become commonplace to consider the environmental and economic impact of engineered products, social impacts have been less frequently considered. However, as technology becomes more and more incorporated into society, it is important to assess its social impact.

This is because the impact of a new product can affect many aspects of people’s lives. Using an engineering approach to determine these metrics can help us understand how best to design products to improve the quality of life for society as a whole. A simple example is the airship designed with a square in Figure 15. This design optimizes for positive social impacts (boat job loss, farmer income and time savings) at a tradeoff with forest loss.

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