Developing Partners for Sustainable Learning in Green Graphic Design

Andy Stevenson from University of Worcester shares his experiences in bringing students to CAT.

For some years now I’ve been developing the teaching in ‘Green’ or (possibly better described as) ‘sustainable’ graphic design techniques as part of the Graphic Design and Multimedia degree course at the University of Worcester. In order to broaden the experiences and learning of students in this area further, I’ve also been developing both links and lecture visits with other specialist organisations outside of the University.

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One of these organisations is the Worcester Resource Exchange – a ‘scrap store’ of post industrial materials allied to the Duckworth Trust and based in the city. We’ve also developed links with the larger Centre for Alternative Technology (or ‘CAT’ as it’s often known as in shorthand) based in Machynlleth, mid Wales. I firmly believe as a lecturer that not all learning takes place within the classroom and that facilitating students to both engage with and see other experiences on site at such places can be hugely beneficial to them too. This comment doesn’t just relate to the students’ learning experiences, but rather it also relates to the galvanising effect on a cohort that an occasional trip or visit outside of the University can also achieve.

Green Graphic Design

The Green Design module’s link with CAT has been evolving year on year now for nearly a decade. Students have benefited from a range of new perspectives that the staff and facilities on site there have provided. In particular I want to highlight their ground-breaking latest research into how we might practically start to ‘decarbonize’ the British economy – which is called ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ (again known in shorthand as ‘ZCB’). This body of findings is the output of many years of painstaking research and analysis by specialists at CAT. It compares where we are now with resource and power use and where we could potentially be – albeit if we started to make small, practical changes to the ways in which we live. Now this might immediately worry readers of this article, who are probably imagining us at this point going back to the horse and cart – but CAT’s vision is anything but this. They see a modern-day society that is less oil and gas reliant and instead is more efficient with it’s use of fuels and one that has also invested more in diversifying heat and power generation utilising more renewables and other related technology.

Closed loop cycles

Linking with such external organisations brings various additional benefits to students and we’ve now adopted a core set of considerations that focus around working towards the core idea of a ‘closed loop’ of product development & usage. Closed loop cycles are also a key theme within CAT’s own ZCB research too if we’re to effectively lower our resource uses. In practical terms, this asks students to look at a lowered, ‘cleverer’ and more sustainable use of resources in their packaging solutions for their ‘live’ clients. Crucially, it also means that students are introduced to the idea of a ‘second use’ for their packaging concepts too.

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Second solutions

Their latest project for regional sustainable brewer Oldfields Orchard Cider (Hobsons) actively encourages them to seek a follow-up use for their packaging once it has safely delivered the goods/bottles to the intended user. This could take one of many forms and in previous projects students have designed their packaging so it easily dismantles as traditional pub games, into small recipe books, and in one case rice paper spice tabs to be put directly into cooking. While there’s often no ‘ideal’ second use solutions, the idea is that students experiment and suggest additional ‘value added’ features for their packaging concepts that either delay or even stop the pack going into the waste systems by ultimately transforming it into another appropriate and useful artefact. While this idea isn’t brand new, the industry appears to be slowly changing and there are more and more sustainable design and packaging precedents appearing now that students are actively bearing in mind for their own concepts.

CAT Educational Lectures

Green Design students were fascinated by CAT’s ZCB research at a recent lecture and workshop on site in the unique Sheppard Lecture Theatre – one of the largest ‘rammed-earth’ structures in Europe. CAT Educational lecturer Ann MacGarry discussed many of the research’s salient findings within their ZCB proposals.. The debates to be had in this area clearly impacted on many of the students – who had only seen overviews to date but nothing in this in depth. Reactions were broad and when audio-interviewed en route back to Worcester, student comments included:

With (the concept of) ‘Zero Carbon Britain’, I really do think it’s achievable – but I think it’s only going to be possible by getting politicians to ‘pull their fingers out’ – it won’t happen without new legislation.. There’s only so much individuals can do really.

And

I found the visit and lecture really interesting, a lot of people talk about sustainability and low impact living but CAT seems to actually ‘do it’. I thought their ethics were really interesting too – not taking funding from big business or being biased or in anyone’s pockets.

Despite the broad-ranging nature of the day’s lecture, students could clearly see how these additional layers of information and context could widen their thinking with their own sustainable packaging projects ongoing. Third year graphic design student Jimi O’Doherty adds:

It (the lecture) was broad in nature – but I think much of the information was transferable and I’ll be bearing some of it in mind when I’m thinking about my further packaging idea.

 

Project focus & themes
We are looking forward to visiting CAT in Autumn 2015 and are planning for the group to develop a set of e-resources for other students (.pdf e-book) around the best usage, simple recipes for and top tips for maintainance of an earth oven.. Students will also be required to develop a multi-use working prototype ‘assistive 3D artifact’ out of suitable materials that supports this design brief (we were initially thinking a re-usable pizza plate with simple recipe/instructions on it or possibly flour measuring device with a similar multi-use)..