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New Resource: Autodesk Sustainability Workshop
Amanda Reed, 7 Oct 10

The Autodesk Sustainability Workshop offers resources to show you how to design more sustainably. (Graphic: Business Wire)

Worldchangers Dawn Danby and Jer Faludi have just helped Autodesk launch an exciting online portal of educational content for engineering students and teachers called the Autodesk Sustainability Workshop. The online workshop consists of short informative videos that introduce essential concepts of sustainable design, such as "Whole Systems Design" and "Lightweighting," as well as links to more resources. The project was made by Dawn (Autodesk's Sustainable Design Program Manager) and Jer, along with Dawn's main collaborator at Autodesk, Adam Menter, a brilliant content strategist and green designer-engineer. The team worked with Free Range Studios, who made "The Story of Stuff" with Annie Leonard, to produce all the short videos for the Sustainability Workshop.

The Sustainability Workshop was developed with engineers in mind, particularly mechanical engineers. While there is a lot of high-level dialogue about sustainable design happening in the design community and press, there is not nearly as much among mechanical engineers. As Dawn relayed to me, this is worrying because there are at least an order of magnitude more practicing engineers (or more) than there are practicing designers. When we talk about design saving the world, many – if not most - of those “designers” are engineers and inventors. They need, and are looking for, really specific strategies and technical solutions; not platitudes. Dawn said:

“Mechanical engineers are a huge leverage point. They’re responsible for so many of the decisions humans make about resource use. They’re working on motors, vehicles, products; building systems; these are all things that use energy, materials and water, and contribute – often in massive ways – to global emissions. And yet they’re taught to make, design and build far less often than you’d expect – and not enough of them are being taught to incorporate environmental impact, aside from in a cursory way. We’re working to deliver students tools and information to help them teach themselves about sustainability, as quickly and effectively as possible.”

The Sustainability Workshop aims to fill this gap in education, to do a better job at framing the problems that engineers love to solve, and to provide the tips, techniques, and tools engineering students and professionals need for optimizing and improving their designs. The videos and tutorials are short, but technical, in order to help busy viewers quickly dive in to the really actionable, physical side of sustainable design. As Jer said:

“I'm very excited about the videos and other resources, because as an educator myself, this is the sort of thing I want to have available. It's not an entire canned curriculum that I may or may not agree with the flow and duration of, but little bite-sized modules that can easily be worked into any number of different courses with different overall goals. They could be used for a design class, or a mechanical engineering class, or even a management class that wants to educate managers about the more technical aspects of sustainability. The combined Whole Systems & Life-Cycle thinking process could potentially be a very powerful tool for designers and business executives to innovate their products and services.”

While the project was built specifically for mechanical engineering undergraduate students, the team thinks it would also be interesting to industrial design students (who may not get this technical with their sustainability approaches), mechanical engineering and industrial design teachers (who are looking for a quick resources to supplement their already super full curriculum), other young students, and adult engineers and designers who are retooling and learning new tricks.

So far the project team has done deep-dives into two key concepts:

  • Whole Systems and Life Cycle thinking, which introduces concepts of big-picture design process; and
  • Lightweighting, which addresses tactics around material use

The team looks forward to adding more topics in the future. As they told me "No single sustainable design strategy is a panacea, and we want students to be equipped with all kinds of approaches. There are lots of other things to dive into around material consciousness and dematerialization, energy use and product life." Be sure to check out the website and follow the project on Twitter at @ecoworkshop if you'd like to keep informed of developments!

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Congratulations Dawn! What a great project.

Posted by: Bill S on 26 Oct 10

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