What is Sustainability?

About the MA Program

This has turned out to be one of the most difficult questions ever posed. In theory it should be a simple answer – living in a way that allows us to continue into the future. In reality however, sustainability is incomprehensibly complex. Is it about people? Yes. Is it about nature and biodiversity? You bet. Climate change, rainforest depletion and ocean acidification? Undeniably. What about economics, politics, social psychology, communications and marketing? Most certainly.
Not only does sustainability touch virtually every aspect of civilization, it’s also a moving target. Earth is a living system that is constantly changing and adapting to micro, meso, and macro variations. How can we make sense of all this complexity?

The Introduction to Sustainable Design class that I developed and teach as a core offering in MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program was created to ask this very question. Of course, it doesn’t provide all the answers, but it does offer students a tightly curated view of the holistic nature of sustainability. Through 15 weeks of fast-paced learning, we explore how to not only navigate and make sense of this complex field, but also how we can utilize sustainable design as a competitive advantage and meaningful opportunity for individuals, businesses and communities alike.

The course is guided by a set of weekly questions, each relating to unique topics within sustainability.

Below is a sampling of questions explored in the course:

Week 2:  How can sustainability be better valued and measured?

Week 3:  What are the predominant approaches of applying sustainability?

Week 10:  How can design be used to catalyze social sustainability?

Week 13:  What are effective ways of communicating and marketing sustainability?

Week 14:  What philosophies and initiatives can guide us in looking beyond sustainability?

Weekly assignments and projects have been developed to directly support these questions. Many are applied, with students working independently or in small teams to create real world product/service innovations. Others are more exploratory in their nature, focusing on refining and expressing individual perspectives on sustainability and personal leadership.  Pulling all of this together is the discussion board, a place where students share assignments and ideas, get feedback from peers and faculty, and build off of each others’ work, interests, and points of view. All in all, this intro course is the perfect launching pad for anyone interested in understanding and applying sustainability within a rapidly shifting world.

I am very excited to lead this course again for its second year. Feedback from its initial year was incredibly strong.

Here’s what some of the students had to say:

“I just want to thank Josh for being such an inspiration this semester and putting so much work into the course.
He made the experience of an online course feel very personal – from the way he was so approachable to the
way he designed assignments to help all of us get to know one another. Really a fabulous semester of learning.”

“I was expecting a general introduction and overview to sustainability. Josh provided this and so much more.
The amount of truly informational, educational, and most importantly, inspirational material was simply over the
top. I would literally walk away from readings and assignments with joy, inspiration and motivation.”

Interested in reading more about this class?

Read Wai-Jing Man’s (MA in SD student) take on it in, Perspectives on a Learning Journey.

Take this class!

Joshua Foss will be co-instructing a 15 week course with Krista Leraas this fall entitled, Introduction to Sustainable Design.  It is a fully online course that begins September 2. Registration is open (only a few seats remain!).

Images courtesy of Joshua Foss