Casting Seeds Part 2: Alumni Talk About Careers in Sustainability



In Part 2 of the “Casting Seeds” series we’ll meet Rita Penrod, a Designer and Sustainability Consultant for FourFive Sustainable Design based in Minneapolis, MN, who graduated from the program with a Professional Certificate in Sustainable Design. Read an article authored by Rita Penrod earlier this year about her experience in the program, Get a Life, Get a Career.

“I entered MCAD’s Sustainable Design program simply hoping to enhance my professional capabilities, but came out of the program with an entirely new way of thinking. I can no longer design without considering the impact of my decisions to the entire system.” — Rita Penrod, Minnesota, Alumn

Meet Rita Penrod

Sustainable Design (SD): Was learning about Sustainable Design something you wanted to do, or something your job asked of you?

Rita Penrod (RP): My choice.

SD: Why did you join the program?

RP: After a successful career in mainstream (unsustainable) design, I wanted to use my skills and experience to do something more meaningful. I could have chosen activism as a hobby, but it made more sense to incorporate it into my job and make a living at it. Now I spend my entire day doing the “right thing.” I can’t wait to go to work each day. How many people can say that?

SD: How has what you learned by studying Sustainable Design at MCAD helped you in your field?

RP: My approach to design is much smarter. I now think about the entire system instead of only function, appeal, and cost. And even with the simplest design projects, I’m educating my clients about the benefits of sustainability. In fact, I’m now doing as much consulting as design – helping clients develop sustainability and CSR strategies, and communicating their stories.

SD: All in all, was this program practical?

RP: MCAD’s Sustainable Design program provides the practical training to help students design smarter and be more valuable to their clients and employers. However, it’s the total shift of perspective, the explorations of the unknown, and the challenging of assumptions brought about by the program that goes far beyond practical. It creates a new world of possibilities.

Image courtesy of Flickr CC @Patrick Hoesly

Cindy Gilbert

Cindy Gilbert is the founding director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program which is home to the fully online, multidisciplinary MA in Sustainable Design (MASD) that is the first of its kind in the world. In this role, she fosters a culture of awareness and creativity through sustainable, innovative and collaborative design. The MASD program blends theory, practice and leadership into a holistic, hands-on learning experience that culminates in student-driven thesis work that brings novel, sustainability-focused products and services to fruition.

Cindy has taught numerous courses and workshops, around the world and online, in the fields of biology, sustainability and biomimicry. She is founder of a consultancy that specializes in innovative online and sustainability education projects with recent clients that include VentureWell, the Biomimicry Institute, the University of Montana,, GeekPuff, and the Green Building Research Institute. Most recently, she served for nearly four years as the founding director of university education at the Biomimicry Institute where she developed and managed all higher education programs, including the biomimicry professional certification program, annual biomimicry education summits, biomimicry affiliate and fellows programs, and biomimicry design challenges. Cindy is based in Montana.

Rita Penrod

Rita Penrod is a designer and sustainability consultant for FourFive Sustainable Design based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Motivated by a desire for positive change, Rita’s work approaches sustainability through holistic systems thinking – with the understanding that everything is designed, from products and services to businesses and lifestyles, empowering all people to create a more sustainable existence. She uses systems thinking methodologies, life cycle assessment, innovation techniques and ethics-based marketing methods to design products, strategies and communications for our clients that positively affect the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit. Rita believes Four Five’s thoughtful and creative
approach is critical to a company’s survival in this era of consumer awareness, economic challenges, and tightening environmental regulations. Rita graduated with a Professional Certificate in Sustainable Design in 2009. Rita is based in Minnesota.