Addressing the climate crisis is a monumental challenge.
But if there’s one university prepared to take this challenge heads-on, it’s Australia’s Monash University.
For the leading Group of Eight university, sustainability goals are interlinked with curriculum, experiential learning and campus-wide efforts.
“Every design brief that we deliver to our students has an element of sustainability in it. Sustainability principles are intrinsic in climate crisis mitigation in every way,” says Programme Director for the university’s Industrial Design specialisation Dr Mark Richardson.
For example, in the first year industrial design curriculum at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture students learn about sustainability hands-on while they learn core design skills such as drawing, general design and 3D printing.
These students choose design specialisations for deep learning, including design for social impact, upcycling, hands-on crafting and generative design, then share their skills in a group project that explores design for the circular economy.
“We integrate the sustainability and climate change narrative into … the “crowning jewel” of the semester’s work,” Dr Richardson explained.
Dr Richardson was previously a senior designer at Ford Motor Company and was involved in both conceptual and global manufacturing projects, such as the R7 show car, Territory, European Mondeo and Asia Pacific Fiesta.
He brings industry knowledge – including a keen awareness on the challenges that lie ahead in the consumption-driven industrial design sector – and valuable insight from his research interests. His research now investigates how we can transition from current design and production methods to more sustainable, resilient and accessible systems of creating, making, sharing and learning.
Dr Richardson admits the difficulty of making the specialisation more sustainable given how the whole profession was born out of demand for consumption.
A Monash design education teaches all the standard production processes under this traditional approach to industrial design. But he stresses that it also encourages and guides students on how to make “small changes” in their own lives “in hope that these make a big impact on their careers”.
“I feel designers can be agents of change,” he said.
Several Monash students and alumni have proven him right.
Jo Szczepanska graduated from Monash in 2007. As a student, she won the first prize award for a water saving design at the global INDEX Aspen Design Challenge in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Her “VeggiePatch” is an eco-friendly landscape design made using post-consumer and industrial waste such as ceramic coated cardboard, banana paper and tyre crumb.
Since then, she has landed roles at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, design company Today, RMIT University and Dental Health Services Victoria.
“Although I chose to specialise in industrial design, the practical skills I learned spanned everything from graphics to coding,” she said.
“Since graduation, I’ve built refugee camp simulations for Oxfam, researched electric vehicles and healthcare services for frog, reconstructed crime scenes for Victoria Police, and designed and wire-framed interfaces for industrial grade 3D printers,” she explained.
“Monash gave me the confidence that I could do just about anything.”
Szczepanska’s career trajectory reflects the versatility of a design education in a world striving for sustainable development.
Another success story from the university is Precious Plastics Monash.
A chapter of a worldwide community, this group of multidisciplinary students tackles and provides solutions to the ever growing presence of plastic pollution. Its main focus areas are education, community and design.
One of its projects that made national news was a mini portable recycling machine that can fit on the back of a ute. It could break down bottles, containers, trays and plastic bags and transform them into phone cases, bowls and even structural beams.
Several schools and fairs have invited the team of engineering and design students to showcase the integration unit and raise public awareness on plastic recycling, including the Royal Melbourne and Seymour shows.
This is the calibre of work the public can expect from Monash design students and alumni contributing to climate action.
Another example is a 2018 collaboration between Precious Plastic Monash and Monash Art Design & Architecture, industrial design student Albert Lam built the Precious Plasticaster. The handmade solid body electric guitar is made from recycled polypropylene sourced from garden pots and plastic furniture, while the neck is a bolt-on one-piece maple. Polypropylene and polyactic acid from discarded 3D printed waste were made into various trims and details.
“The idea for the plasticaster came from a desire to change the perception of plastic as a cheap and easily discarded material. By combining plastic with valued traditional materials like wood and metal to create a treasured object, it has been really rewarding to see people change their minds about plastic when they pick the guitar up and feel that it is unlike anything else,” Lam said.
Other initiatives Monash has taken include the installation of solar panels totalling 1.36 megawatts (MW) thus far, rainwater harvesting, the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, student-run Monash Association of Sustainability and so forth.
From driving sustainable change to creating a thriving educational experience, this is a university that engages, inspires, fosters and empowers future designers to contribute positively.