Parsons School of Design/Product Design Department
Spring 02

Instructor: David Bergman,

Reading & resources Schedule Assignments      


Description. A comprehensive look at design for sustainable environments: what defines sustainability and why it is more than just a fad for the design world. This is a combination lecture and studio course in which we will study and design products looking at their effects upon us both individually and globally. We will analyze the design process including not just the "standard" environmental topics of recycled and sustainable materials, but more fully looking at such other areas as the behavioral and cultural aspects and alternatives, and the real life cycle costs of the product. Our products surround us and define us and, in one way or another, affect our environment now and for years to come.

In this course, we are going to look at what it means for a product or a piece of furniture to be sustainably designed and produced. We will be taking a "holistic" approach, meaning that we will look at sustainability in all its aspects, ranging from the more obvious ones of material usage and recycling to more subjective and far reaching concepts of sustainability such as equality and self-sufficiency.

This will be a combination lecture, discussion and studio course. We will simultaneously study the existing literature and state of the art – via existing products, both sustainable and otherwise – and design our own products. Throughout the course, we will also be researching eco-materials. The purpose of this research will be two-fold. One, to find and analyze materials that you can utilize in the design projects for this and other courses and, two, to build up the department's materials library so that there will be an area in the library devoted to eco-materials.

Assignments for the course will be of several types. For the first few weeks, we will be doing reading and studying existing products. You will be asked to present your research and hand in notes that will comprise part of your grade. You will also be locating and researching the eco-materials mentioned above. Then we will switch to design projects. The specifics of the projects will be presented later in the course.
Assignments will also be posted at the course website at If you have to miss a class, check the site for assignments/updates, etc. Please note that all assignments must be handed in on time. Do not hand in originals and do make sure your name is on the work.

NOTE: One of the tenets of sustainable design – which may at first seem unrelated to the topic – is the open exchange of information. This will take several forms in this class. One will be, of course, in our pin ups, where everyone is expected to participate. Another will be in the materials research portion of the class – your presentations will benefit everyone in the class as well as other students in the department as the green materials library expands. Moreover, presentations – whether mine or yours – are not to be regarded as one-way lectures. They are discussions. I want to know when you don't understand something or disagree with something or just wish to add to the topic. Much of sustainable design is a listening and learning process.

Grades will be based on the assignments, exams and participation in class discussions and crits. Departmental attendance requirements will be applied -- your presence for both the weekly presentations and for crits and pinups is an essential part of the course. Per department rules, more than three absences is automatic grounds for failure.

There will be two exams: a midterm quiz and a final.

Required reading:

Helen Lewis and John Gertsakis, Design + Environment (on order at Barnes & Noble).*

Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World (available at Barnes & Noble)*

William McDonough and Michael Braungart, "The NEXT Industrial Revolution," online (in three parts) at Also reprinted in Sustainable Solutions as chapter 7.

US Department of Technology Assessment, Greener Products by Design, online at (There is a lot of repetitive material in this document, so it isn't as long as it looks.)

Janine M. Benyus, Biomimicry (available at Barnes & Noble)*

Sim van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan, Ecological Design.

Bruce Sterling, "What if Green Design Were Just Good Design," Dwell magazine, June 2001

Recommended Reading:

Sustainable Solutions, Martin Charter and Ursula Tischner. (available at Barnes & Noble)

*The Green Imperative: Natural Design for the Real World, Victor Papanek.

*Reuse: Good Everyday Design from Reused and Recycled Materials, Arango Foundation.

The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability, Paul Hawken.

*Design for the Environment, Dorothy MacKenzie.

*The Total Beauty of Sustainable Products, Edwin Datschefsky

Green Marketing, Jacquelyn Ottman

*Trespassers, Ed van Hinte and Conny Bakker

*Some of these books have been placed on reserve at the library (or are on order).

General environmental reading:

Small Is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher

Silent Spring, Rachel Carson

Believing Cassandra, Alan AtKisson

Earth in the Balance, Al Gore

50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save the Earth.

Websites: (Edwin Datschefsky) UN Environment Programme Working Group on Sustainable Product Development The Centre (and Journal) for Sustainable Product Design Design for Environment Guide The Viridian Movement The Rocky Mountain Institute Centre for Design at RMIT International Design Resource Awards PRe website -- LCA analysis methods Redefining Progress Topical index to EPA resources/studies J. Ottman Consulting International Design Resource Awards


Week 1, 1.30 Overview: what is sustainable product design? (One week assignment, due 2.6)
Reading (for following week): Charter/Chapter 6, Van der Ryn/Part One, Lewis & Gertsakis/Chapter 1, p 13 - 22, & Chapter 5.

Week 2, 2.6 presentations of assignment, discussion of materials research. (2nd one week assignment, due 2.13 and materials research assignment, due 2.27)
Reading: McDonough article (online or in Charter/Chapter 7), Lewis & Gertsakis/Chapter 4, Papanek/Chapter 9

Week 3, 2.13 presentation of second assignment. Discussion of Complexity
Reading: Lewis & Gertsakis/Chapters 6 - 9 .

Week 4, 2.20 discussion of materials research
Reading: Reading: Lewis & Gertsakis/Chapter 3.

Week 5, 2.27 materials presentations. LCA. ( Select product for LCA analysis, due 3.6.)
Reading: Van der Ryn/Part Two - Second Principle, course reference materials, web resources:
LCA hotlist
Downloadable LCA programs and other links
Free Life Cycle Assessment on the Internet (Carnegie Mellon Green Design Initiative)

Week 6, 3.6 LCA analyses due. (design project assigned, discussion of products that communicate awareness)

Week 7, 3.13 Midterm quiz. Pin up of design projects. Biomimickry/regenerative design/cradle to cradle.
Reading: Papanek chapter 8: The Tree of Knowledge and Benyus especially chapters 1 & 4 (but skim the rest of the book as well), and

Week 8, 3.20 Pin up. Socially responsible design.
Reading: Papanek/Chapter 4, Lewis & Gertsakis/Chapter 10.

Week 9, 4.3 Final review of first project (Second design project assigned.)

Week 10, 4.10 guest, pin up, Buyers, Markets & Green Design, or Dispelling the Myth
Mackenzie, chapter 1, Sterling (in Dwell magazine, June 2001), essay

Week 11, 4.17 possible field trip
Reading: Lewis & Gertsakis/Chapter 1, p 22 - 27

Week 12, 4.24 product/service combinations (take back, upgrading, reuse, lease), pin up

Week 13, 5.1 guest, pin up

Week 14, 5.8 guest, final exam

Week 15, 5.15 final review


Week 1

1. Find an example of a product that, through its usage, produces or encourages environmentally unsustainable practices. Examples: take out containers, newspapers, circulation cards in magazines. Prepare a short ( 2 - 3 minute) presentation showing the problem(s) engendered by that product. Bring an example of the product if possible.
One week. Assigned wk 1

Week 2 assignments

Reading: McDonough article (online or in Charter/Chapter 7), Lewis & Gertsakis/Chapter 4, Papanek/Chapter 9.

due 2/13(one week assignment): Reconceptualize the product you presented for the first assignment in a way that removes or reduces the environmental issues that prompted you to select it. Prepare a presentation explaining your redefined product. Presentations will be presented in class and copies handed in.

due 2/27 (3 week assignment): Select and research a "green" material. Your presentation is to include at least two samples of the material, a short report (two copies) on your research into the properties and "greenness" of the material, and examples of some of its (potential) applications. Refer to the material research guide on the course web site.

materials examples:

woods - sustainably harvested, efficiently utilized
plastics - recycled, non-petroleum based, biodegradable, reusable
resins - non-toxic processes, non-offgassing products
composites - sustainable sourced materials, biodegradable
papers - non-wood based or sustainably harvested, non-bleach
metals - recycled, low embodied energy, reusable
textiles - non-toxic inks, non-offgassing materials/products, sustainable sources

One sample of the material and one copy of the report will be placed in the department materials library. The other material sample is for your use, perhaps in the upcoming projects, and the other copy of the report will be incorporated into a class materials resource. (If possible, I would also like a digital version - by email or disk - to more easily make the reports into a class-wide copy.)

Week 5 assignment

Reading: Van der Ryn/Part Two – Second Principle
review week 4 reading: Reading: Lewis & Gertsakis/Chapter 3.

Put together a LiDs Wheel diagram and a basic Process Tree/Life Cycle Analysis of a product. If feasible, use the product you selected and reconceived for the first assignment. You will probably not be able to do a precise quantitative analysis, but a qualitative one will do – meaning that you will not have numbers to put into the categories, but you will be able to establish the categories and provide descriptions of the scale of the projected numbers and how those numbers might be developed by others.
One week. Due 3/6. See reading and references in schedule above.

Week 6 assignment

Design Project 1: design a product that, through its usage, encourages environmental awareness. Examples: an instrument on a car dashboard that tells you how much milage you're getting and how much money you could be saving; a shower that makes you aware of how much water you are using; These designs should also be positive in their nature – not just making you feel guilty about using them, but work on the level of encouragement and reward as well. Due 4/3.

Reading for 3.20: Papanek chapter 8: The Tree of Knowledge and Benyus especially chapters 1 & 4 (but skim the rest of the book as well), and

Reading for 4.3: Papanek/Chapter 4, Lewis & Gertsakis/Chapter 10.

Week 9 assignment

Home entertainment, along perhaps with cooking and eating, has become the focus of American home life. With the advent of all our myriad electronics, the mid-century "den" or "rec room" has transformed into a high tech toy room filled with the products of our time -- large screen televisions, DVD's, VCR's, surround sound theater systems, PC's with broadband connections, workout areas -- and the furnishings and accessories that augment them: lazy boys, faux-antique armoires, exercise equipment, game boys and playstations, under counter refrigerators, lights, sofas, rugs, etc. This new lifestyle has resulted in a proliferation of "things," many of which serve single functions or, even worse, are used just once and then sit idle.

For this project, design an object (product or furniture) for the 21st century ‘family room." The object should reflect our environmental consciousness on several levels. It should, of course, utilize sustainable materials. It should be an improvement or replacement for an existing or anticipated object(s).

Final presentation requirements will be:
1. Written description of the object explaining its purpose and environmental benefits. You should incorporate a basic LCA. (Copies to be handed in.)
2. Drawings and sketches as necessary to graphically describe the object. The drawings will be pinned up for the review and copies (which may be smaller) shall be handed in.
3. Models are strongly encouraged.

Some considerations:
This assignment was chosen partially with the department's theme, "The Rituals of Play," in mind.
There are two potential competitions that you should be aware of and that you may design your product for:
1. Lightolier's "Packaged Daylight" – to design an integrated daylight/electric fixture.
2. O2NY's student competition is still evolving. It is planned for Spring 2002 and will be open to eco-design students in NYC, which at the moment means Parsons and Pratt. The competition guidelines and sponsorship are still in development, but one potential sponsor is Nike.