Get a chance to write the rules

Student Spotlight

Mark Chamberlain is a recent graduate of MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program. Mark live in Minneapolis, MN.


What attracted you to MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program?

I wanted a different perspective on my professional work. I felt that the Sustainable Design program could offer me a new way to increase the value I could offer to my employer and my clients.


Has anything you’ve learned in the program changed your way of thinking?

Going through the program has profoundly changed how I think about creating value and how I’m connected to larger systems in my work and community.

I am more strategic in how I try to make change and how I use leverage points and connections to affect that change in my company and community. I also have a better understanding of when a company or someone isn’t presenting the complete truth or picture about their sustainability work. That might be greenwashing on a product I’m buying or someone in my company who wants to oversell a “green” initiative.


Has anything you’ve learned in the program changed what you’d like to do with your career?

I have become more interested in corporate responsibility as it relates to the environment. I want to discover how companies can authentically leverage real sustainability work in a complex business environment. It requires the breaking down of traditional work silos to build bridges to new opportunities. I am particularly interested in how branding and communication play a key role in communicating the vision and values behind the actions required to make sustainable change.


What has surprised you about the program?

The importance of looking at design problems through a systems perspective was one of my biggest surprises. People often think of processes with a strong linear movement. However, what actually happens is much more non-linear and complex. Understanding how people and resources move and interact is key to understanding how to make change and add value to your work.


Is there a class project or assignment that you are really proud of?

I loved working on the sustainable packaging design project. I looked at ketchup and how packaging design could reduce the environmental impact. I came up with a couple of designs backed by research and I was able to present the final project to the president of Annie’s Homegrown and their sustainability director.


What are you currently doing or working on?

I’m currently working on corporate sustainability initiatives for my company.

This degree has put me at the table with senior executives to help shape our sustainability communication.


What was the most exciting or inspiring thing you learned in the program?

I was inspired by being exposed to biomimetic design. Most classes incorporate biomimicry into the curriculum to show how looking at nature as a perspective to approach design problems.


What has been your proudest moment or project in sustainability or sustainable design?

Besides getting a response from the president of Annie’s Homegrown on my ketchup project, I was particularly proud of presenting to The North Face on our sustainable design project. It was a ton of work, but I felt I truly understood what sustainable product design looks like and how to balance numerous complex design requirements to achieve actionable results.


What sustainability or sustainable design projects are you looking forward to working on?

I am excited about working on corporate sustainability work in my company. I am also interested in pushing graphic design sustainability. I believe that graphic designers are at a key intersection to make change in how we communicate. There are many leverage points available to designers that can make a real difference.


How have you applied what you learned in the program?

Generally, I approach design problems differently. I’m a thinker first. I look around the problem presented to me. I look for opportunities that the client or my boss doesn’t see. Through this approach I’m able to sometimes come up with completely different solutions that add value and reduce investment.


What have been the most important or useful things that you learned in the program?

I work for a manufacturing company. We have a complex supply chain and use resources from across the globe. When we talk about recycling and other traditional “green” projects, I can understand what is real and accurate better than almost anyone in my company. This allows me to be authentic as a communicator and do my job better.


What have you learned in the program that you wish everyone would learn?

It’s not hard, but it’s not easy. This was one of my big take-a-ways from early on in the program. Sustainability takes time to understand and connect the dots, but the problems presented by a goal of being sustainable are achievable if we work together and understand the goal.


What recommendations do you have for people considering a career in sustainable design?

Sustainability will be part of everyone’s job in the coming generation.

Getting a degree in sustainability puts you ahead of everyone else and you get a chance to write the rules for your company or business.


If you had a magic wand and could completely solve one sustainability problem, what would it be?

Energy. One of the visiting presenters in the program, Jay Harman, clearly presented the biggest sustainability challenge. It’s energy. If we can do the same work using significantly less energy we could make the kind of progress needed to manage climate change and other harmful ecological impacts. He does this work through biomimetic design – which is brilliant. We have nature’s blueprints for how its solved all of the problems humans are currently facing.


The program has been a great experience. For me, it was a leap of faith. I knew it would be a life-changing experience, but it’s connected me to some of the best minds working on sustainable issues today.


Mark Chamberlain

Mark Chamberlain earned his BS degree in communication from North Dakota State University in Fargo. He has spent more than 10 years as a graphic designer and print production manager in higher-education institutions in Minnesota. Mark has a passion for sustainable print practices and exploring ways to spread better understand of our behaviors on our environment. He enjoys biking, photography and all things Minnesotan. Mark is currently a MA student in MCAD’s Sustainable Design program and is based is based in Minnesota.