Sustainable Design—2003 School Survey

Taking the pulse of sustainable design education in North America.

Intuitively and anecdotally—as well as through our reporting on current projects—we at Metropolis know that grassroots environmentalism is making an impact on the world of design and architecture. But when it comes to the integration of sustainability into design education, the anecdotal accounts are less encouraging. We hear that students are often forced to choose between, say, green design or restaurant design; that some deans and department chairs dismiss sustainability as mere “dogma”; and that teachers in all disciplines complain that concepts like sustainability, systems thinking, and bioinspiration are hard to grasp. We also sense that little of what’s called green or sustainable design is based on solid theory rather than sporadic experience. It was from a desire to confirm—or deny—these and similar assumptions that we designed this survey. With it, we set out to take the pulse of design education in North America, to find out just how well our schools are working sustainability theory and practice into their curricula. Working with Audience Profiler, an independent research organization, we posted our questionnaire on our Web site and prompted design educators by e-mail to participate. Between April 13 and May 21 we received a total of 371 responses from deans, department chairs, and professors in nearly all fifty states and Canada. Here are two telling numbers: A mere 14 percent say that their schools are developing programs to educate their teachers about sustainable design. And only 25 percent say their school has a faculty advisor on sustainable design. Is this as alarming to you as it is to us? Take a look at our survey results on this page, then tell us where you stand on sustainable design education.

Are Schools Teaching Sustainability?

How do you bring LEED into the classroom?
Part of the instruction 43%
Do not bring LEED into the classroom 42%

How much do you agree that sustainability is relevant to your design curriculum?
Completely agree: 67%
Somewhat agree: 26%
Neither agree nor disagree: 6%
Somewhat or completely disagree: 2%

What’s the average number of studios in your program that are dedicated to sustainable design?
2 out of an average total of 11.

How many required courses in your department are dedicated to the environment?
0: 9%
1-3: 27%
4-5: 8%
5+: 10%
?: 45%

How many elective course descriptions in your department use the words environment, sustainability, green, or systems thinking?
0: 14%
1-3: 28%
4-5: 4%
5+: 9%
? 45%

How many of your department’s invited speakers discussed environment-related topics in the last academic year?

Is this more or less than the previous year?
Same: 45%
More: 33%
Less: 9%
Not sure: 12%

How Are They Doing It?

How much do you agree or disagree that elective courses related to studios help students understand sustainability?
Completely agree 65%
Somewhat agree 30%
Neither agree nor disagree 5%
Somewhat or completely disagree 1%

Which of the following courses are included in your foundation program or are required?
History: 71%
Culture: 56%
Life Sciences: 48%
Philosophy: 38%
Ethics: 35%
Economics: 34%
Political: Science 22%
Cybernetics/Systems Thinking: 10%

Do the studios in your department engage students in the investigation of environmental or ecological issues?
Yes 66%
No 15%
Not sure 19%

Do the studios in your department study the life-cycle costs of design?
Yes: 34%
No: 41%
Not sure: 25%

Could your students easily identify faculty members who are knowledgeable about sustainable design?
Yes: 55%
No: 21%
Not sure: 24%

Are you attempting to thread sustainable thinking through your school’s foundation program?
Yes: 46%
No: 18%
Not sure: 36%

Does your department offer courses on the principles of nature’s processes?
Yes: 30%
No, but we plan to offer them: 11%
No, and we have no plan to offer them: 34%
Not sure: 25%

What percentage of instructors in your department show a working knowledge of LEED?
Don’t know: 57%

Does your school have a designated faculty advisor on sustainable design?
No: 63%
Yes: 25%

Are you currently developing lifelong learning programs for your faculty in the area of sustainable design?
Yes: 14%
No, but we plan to develop them: 24%
No, and we have no plan to develop them: 39%
Not sure: 23%

Which of the following do you use to help acquaint your faculty with sustainable design?
Lectures by specialists: 54%
Special grants: 20%
Do not help acquiant faculty with sustainable design: 31%

What About Graduate Studies In Sustainable Design?

How many graduate courses does your department offer that include considerations of sustainability?
None: 28%
Don’t know: 45%

How many graduate degrees have been granted by your department that focus on interdisciplinary sustainable design?
None: 37%
Don’t know: 55%

How Can We Learn To Collaborate?

How often do you initiate collaboration?
With other design departments?

Never: 10%
Sometimes: 45%
Very often: 18%
Not too often: 28%
Between courses within your department?
Never: 4%
Sometimes: 43%
Very often: 38%
Not too often: 15%

How much do you agree or disagree that your studio critics advance the understanding of sustainable design by both the instructors and the students?
Completely agree: 54%
Somewhat agree: 36%
Neither agree nor disagree: 8%
Somewhat or completely disagree: 2%

How much do you agree or disagree that interdepartmental collaborations are important to sustainable design?
Completely agree: 58%
Somewhat agree: 33%
Neither agree nor disagree: 7%
Somewhat or completely disagree: 2%

What’s Holding Up The Teaching Of Sustainable Design?

Which of the following resources does your department need to improve the teaching of sustainable design?
Books: 66%
Web sites: 55%
Visiting lecturers: 73%
Advisors: 50%
Other: 22%

In your opinion, which of the following are barriers to working in an interdisciplinary manner toward understanding sustainable design?
Administration: 41%
Funding: 60%
Faculty attitudes: 53%
Other: 22%

Do your students have access to computer programs that simulate living systems?
Yes: 18%
No, but we plan to acquire them: 19%
No, and we have no plan to acquire them: 32%
Not sure: 31%

Where do YOU stand on sustainable design education? Tell us your thoughts.

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