Interview with Jeremy Faludi, inventor of the Whole System Mapping method

In this blog post I am delighted to present an interview with Jeremy Faludi, who is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Jeremy is a sustainable design strategist. He has contributed to six books on sustainable design, including Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century. He created the Whole System Mapping sustainable design method, designed the prototype of AskNature.org for the Biomimicry Institute, and a bicycle he helped design appeared in the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum’s 2007 exhibit “Design for the Other 90%.”

Jeremy, could you tell us a little about your background?

Sure.  I grew up between the farmer’s fields and woods of rural Wisconsin, which I think is how I became an environmentalist.   Then I went off to the west coast and got a physics degree, then a design degree, and finally a mechanical engineering degree, with 15 years of industry consulting and jobs in between them, trying to make the world a better place though green design.  I just started teaching at Dartmouth a year ago, but before that taught at Stanford, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and other places.

How did you become interested in design?

I had a hard time deciding between creative pursuits and the analytical rigor of solving hard problems.  Design is one of the few places that requires both in great measure, and sustainable design especially.  The problems we’re solving are extremely complex and difficult, and they require a ton of creativity.  But it’s immensely satisfying.

What is the Whole System Mapping method, and who is it for?

It’s a sustainable design method aimed at product designers, engineers, and managers.  It makes systems thinking simple, concrete, and actionable, and attempts to turn sustainability from a burden into a source of innovation.  The method combines big-picture creative thinking with quantitative sustainability metrics.  It broadens the design team’s scope by the creation of a visual whole-system map; a later step using this map also encourages more thorough and radical brainstorming. The method also helps target efforts to get the biggest improvements for the least work by setting ideation priorities and choosing final designs through quantitative measurements, such as life-cycle assessment or point-based certification systems.

In a study I performed with over 500 participants in industry and academia, practitioners valued Whole System Mapping not only for its sustainability benefits, but also as an innovation tool and a communication tool to get disparate team members of different specialties all aligned on the problem definition and goals.  It can also be easily combined with other green design practices like biomimicry, The Natural Step, 12 Leverage Points, and others.

Where can people learn more about the Whole System Mapping, if they want to perform the method themselves?

You can find out more about Whole System Mapping and try it yourself in the VentureWell Tools for Design and Sustainability site.  There are three pages on Whole System Mapping: the first contains a six-minute video summary and downloadable PDF, the second contains a step-by-step exercise, and the third contains an example PDF.  There’s also an academic article analyzing it here.  Actually, the VentureWell site is most of a masters-level capstone class I taught on green product design, covering everything from energy to material choice to persuasive design, with recommendations for how instructors can integrate the content into ordinary engineering, design, or business classes.

Which role do you envision that technology and design may play in the future to help us obtain a sustainable development?

Technology and design are the hands and feet of change; business is the pumping blood that keeps everything moving, and culture plus politics are the brain that decides what the whole body does.  Without effective technology and design you can’t implement change, but they’re not sufficient by themselves, you need to also change culture, politics, and business to enable technology and design to build the better world.

As for the difference between them, technology can improve the environmental impacts of people’s lifestyles without changing their behavior (e.g. changing from a gas car to an electric car); design can change people’s lifestyles without requiring new technology (e.g. changing from a car to a bike or bus).  Both have power, and they enable each other.

Which of the grand challenges do you believe will be the most difficult one for us as a society to address?

What’s most difficult is not necessarily what’s most impactful.  I’m interested in what’s most impactful; if it’s easy, all the better.  I have a whole hour-long lecture on priorities for sustainability (in a nutshell, empirical research from many organizations around the world suggest dense livable equitable cities, better buildings, better transportation of people, better food systems, and cleaner energy generation). I also recommend Project Drawdown’s analysis.  But really, so many of these challenges are intertwined: for example, pollution mostly affects those in poverty, who are most often racial or ethnic minorities, etc.  So if you reduce pollution you help minorities, and if you empower minorities, they will force pollution reduction, etc.

What would be your number one advice that you would give to a young person who is concerned about the future, and who is thinking about which education route to take to play a role in making the future as bright as possible?

Any job in every industry can drive sustainability.  But some places have more leverage than others—business has the most leverage.  So even if you’re like me and prefer design, get some competence in business and work to redesign company strategies, or start your own company.  I recommend aiming for high priorities (as mentioned a minute ago), and looking for places where small interventions can have big effects.  For example, back in 2005 I was writing for Worldchanging, and wrote an article about how Google Maps (which only did driving directions then) should make an open API for cities to provide public transit trip planning, because Google had the best map interface and was providing it for free, while lots of cities were spending tons of money on custom transit mapping software with terrible interfaces.  One of the comments on the article was from the head of IT for Portland, Oregon’s transit agency, saying that they wanted the same thing but couldn’t get anyone at Google to talk to them.  I had friends at Google, and asked them to find the Maps people.  Six months later, Google Maps did transit, and now it does it on your phone in hundreds of cities around the world.  That software design has caused more people to switch to public transit than any innovations in train or bus design, station signage, route layout, or urban planning.  And it was cheaper and easier, too.

So look for places where small design interventions can have big effects, and aim to redesign business models as well as products.

 

Training in teaching for sustainable development

This week we launched no less than two separate teacher training efforts:

Wednesday: I and Emma Strömberg (IVL) hosted the first session of six in our new training course in pedagogical methods for integrating sustainability in education, for a cohort of university teachers at KTH in Södertälje

Thursday: the launch of a training endeavor for teachers in secondary schools, were they receive training on using our educational board games and the Snowflake Education online toolkit for teaching sustainable development. This event was hosted by Helena Lennholm (KTH, The Department of Learning in Engineering Sciences).

Thank you Emma, Helena and all participating teachers! I am looking forward to the coming sessions in the next few weeks!

EESD18: Engineering Education for Sustainable Development – Rowan University conference June 2018

Last week I attended the EESD18 conference in Engineering Education for Sustainable Development at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, USA. This was the ninth edition of the EESD conference series, and my own fourth time.

EESD18 Rowan University

The theme for this year was Creating the Holistic Engineer – which focuses on the urgent need to start breaking the silos that we are currently working in at engineering institutions. We live in an increasingly complex world and we are at a critical juncture at which humanity must make some serious choices about the future. Engineers are indeed key players in the societal transitions that need to happen. Creating engineers with a holistic approach to complex problem management and who are able to negotiate sometimes opposing attitudes and viewpoints among stakeholders, will be one of the most challenging and most important changes to engineering education we have to make.

These were four days filled with interesting discussions and meetings with people that are totally dedicated to integrating sustainable development into engineering education.

On the opening session on Monday 4th June, Dr. Jordi Segalas gave a historical recap of how the EESD conference series have developed from the first edition of the conference held in Delft, The Netherlands, in 2002. The topics covered have changed somewhat throughout the years and pretty much followed societal trends and how the state of the art in sustainability has developed. The multi- and transdisciplinary characteristics of the subject have always been a strong ingredient in the conferences, and connect indeed with how to deal with complexity, different viewpoints and multiple stakeholders. Interesting trends that can be seen in the statistics are for example less emphasise on environmental and more on social issues; more discussions on how to change the engineering curriculum and how to integrate sustainability on a program level; and perhaps to some extent less focus on specific techniques (such as Life Cycle Assessment) and more on overarching challenges.

During an excursion to the FMC Tower in Philadelphia, hosted by the FMC Corporation, we had the opportunity to host a workshop displaying the digital toolkit and the educational games that we build learning packages around at Snowflake Education. Together with my colleague Sara Trulsson, we demonstrated a selection of four games: Dilemma, ClimeOut, FishBanks and In the Loop – as well as showing how teachers can use our digital toolkit to build flipped-classroom sessions with the games, using our library of recorded online lectures, student assignments etc. We would like to send a thanks to all who participated in our workshop! Also, a great thanks to those of you who already ordered a classroom package for one or several of the games! 😊

EESD18 FMC Tower
EESD18 Snowflake Education Games and Toolkit Workshop

During these days I had so many interesting meetings and listened to so many good talks on the challenges and insights in integrating sustainability into engineering education from universities around the globe that it would be impossible to review all of them in this blog post. But I want to just briefly mention a couple of them:

Dr. Morgan, Dr. Byrne and Dr. Orozco-Messana described a unique collaboration between five universities (University of Cambridge, University College Cork, University of British Columbia, TU Delft and Universitat Politècnica de València): During a week-long workshop at Universitat Politècnica de València in April 2017, students from a range of disciplines and from all participating universities worked with projects where they outlined integrated development plans for a real life local project. What was really inspiring to hear in this presentation was how the authors had overcome the challenges of coordinating such diverse perspectives – both from the broad range of disciplines represented and from a cultural perspective. They used improvisation as a tool, describing this very colourfully using a jazz band as a metaphor for how they had experienced this collaboration.

Another talk that caught my interest was Dr. Neal’s presentation about the new program in Sustainable Energy Engineering that they are developing at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. The challenges and opportunities in such a project are but all too well-known to me from my own experiences in my advisory role at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, where have assisted in the build-up of the new department and new satellite Campus in the city Södertälje. I our case, focus lie on sustainable industrial production. Dr. Neal pointed to the opportunities in integrating a rich set of experiential, transformative pedagogies, including problem-based learning, research, reflective learning, and real-world interdisciplinary projects. Thinking completely new, may indeed be easier when building a completely new organisation, while there are plenty of huge obstacles to overcome throughout the process as well. I was inspired by the talk and will definitely bring forward a few insights to my own clients.

My own talk was about attitudes towards curriculum integration of sustainable development among programme directors in engineering education. Together with Dr. Leifler at the University of Linköping, we conducted a combined Internet-survey and follow-up interviews among programme directors at engineering programmes in Sweden to learn what motivates them to integrate sustainability into courses and programmes. One interesting conclusion from this work was that their own conviction of this being important – for many even perhaps a moral obligation – is a much more important driver than for example regulations from the accrediting boards or university branding reasons. To us, this is indeed a very encouraging result and as a next step we are now considering making an international study to follow up on these results.

Many thanks to the presenters of all the great talks and workshops I had the opportunity to attend! I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers at the Rowan University for a rewarding and very well-organised conference!

Learning objectives for sustainable development – and how to integrate those on an education programme level

Imagine you are the programme director of an engineering programme. Imagine that you are deeply concerned about where the world is heading, and that you realise that the students coming out from your programme could have the capacity to make a real change in the world. How do you make sure that they will get the skills and knowledge they need to work for a sustainable development? How can you ensure that sustainability issues are discussed, taught and learnt throughout the courses of your programme?

I have hade quite a few of these discussions with programme directors over the last few years. But recently we received a consultancy job at Snowflake Education along these lines, where we eventually came up with a completely new answer to those questions. This job was for the M.Sc. in Engineering for Energy and Environment, at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.

This particular programme could be called ‘the flagship programme’ when it comes to sustainable development at KTH. I was actually assigned as project manager for the process leading up to the launch of the programme some eight years ago, so it was super interesting to get involved in the programme again.

At Snowflake Education, we have identified a process for how to do these kinds of jobs: we regularly assist programme directors and university management in the process of integrating sustainable development in a relevant way into their education programmes. This process typically consists of four stages:

  1. current status analysis
  2. creating a vision
  3. creating a roadmap
  4. applying the change process

Each of these steps consists of interviews, focus group seminars, workshops and a range of other activities. Depending on the clients’ particular needs and what they have done before, the focus of the process can be put on different aspects.

In this particular case, stage 1 and part of stage 2 had already pretty much been taken care of in another project done the previous year, so we started by reviewing their results – and refined them a little according to our own experience.

An interesting feature with this engineering programme, is that it has everything to do with sustainable development. When you look at the current programme objectives, they all connect deeply with sustainable development issues. However, the first thing we realised was that although the integration of sustainable development into this programme is obviously much more profound than in almost any other programme I have worked with, there a still a lot of things that can be improved. So, we started to figure out a process for how this could be done. From scratch.

I and my colleague at Snowflake Education, Sara Trulsson, presented the results of this work today at a programme conference for the teachers on the programme, after having worked with this for a couple of weeks. Here is roughly what the process we presented would look like:

  • First of all: we realised that there is a certain complexity to writing programme objectives that are both broken down into different taxonomic levels, and simultaneously broken down into different subject-related fractions. We realised that this is not normally well done in most education programmes, and there would probably be a need for a more rigorous generic process for how to do this.
  • Second, we decided that there were actually three aspects that we wanted to take into consideration:

Sustainable development is such a vast and complex subject that we need first of all a structure for covering the different aspects of the subject. The method of choice should be one that is both broad enough and deep enough, and one that recognises sustainable development as a truly multidisciplinary and complex subject. We choose the Sustainable Development Goals from Agenda 2030 (the SDG’s) as the schematic for this. UNSCO has later developed those into topics and suggested learning objectives, as a starting point for organisations in education for integrating the SDG’s into education. We used those as a starting point for our process.

There are a number of specific skills that professionals trained to manage sustainability issues must be trained for. Different authors arrange such skills in different ways, but after considering a couple of commonly cited schematics, we choose Wiek’s five key competences (Wiek et al., 2011). This is a presentation that describes the concept.

Last but not least we still favour a taxonomic dimension. In this case, we choose to work with Bloom’s taxonomy.

  • We then turned the presentation into a workshop where the attendants had the chance to briefly try out our process for developing and follow up on sustainability learning objectives, learning activities and assessment. The workshop would follow the same steps as the process would:
  1. For each of the 17 SDG’s: work through the 10 ‘topics’ that UNESCO have defined in their report and decide within the teacher community IF that particular topic should be covered by this education programme or not, and if so to WHAT taxonomic level.
  2. For all selected topics, define one or several intended learning outcomes (ILO’s) and learning activities (LA’s) – based on Wiek’s key competences. Allocate the ILO’s and the LA’s to the courses in the programme. Then relate those back to the key competences. This is an iterative process that is repeated until all topics are allocated to courses in the programme.
  3. Identify overlaps between ILO’s. Condense to long list of ILO’s to a compressed list.
  4. Develop a virtual course plan for sustainable development within the education programme. Identify individuals and responsibilities to implement the virtual course plan and for reviewing it recurrently, for example every second year.

The workshop was then followed by a discussion on how the process would work if fully implemented on the programme.

The teachers and other participating personnel agreed that this would be a great process and the next step will be to launch this during the autumn semester 2018.

This is a very brief summary of the outcomes of the meeting we had with the teachers and the process we have worked on. I will post updates to the process as we move into the next phase for the next few months. However, in the meantime please get back tom me with you comments and questions – I am tremendously curious to hear whether you believe something similar would be appropriate at your institution!

Pedagogical Methods for Integrating Sustainable Development in Education

One of the most exciting projects that I am involved in right now is the development of a training course for teachers: Pedagogical Methods for Integrating Sustainable Development in Education.

In this very tangible and practical course, the participants learn a set of concrete tools and methods for integrating sustainable development in education. The focus is on practical implementation in the classroom, on intended learning outcomes and on assessment methods. We also discuss how to achieve a progression of the topic of sustainable development through an education programme.

The methods demonstrated and tested during the course are based on modern pedagogical principles such as online/distance learning and blended learning, flipped classroom techniques, active learning and educational games. The course focuses on teaching tools for integrating sustainable development at the course and programme level.

The next round of the course will be in Stockholm, Sweden within the framework of a collaboration with Snowflake Education, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and the Royal Institute of Technology. It will be open though for participants from any higher education institution.

Course leaders will be myself (PhD) and Emma Strömberg (PhD, Docent), plus specially invited guest workshop leaders. All trainers have lots of experience both from teaching sustainable development and integrating sustainability into education programmes and courses themselves, and from coaching other teachers and programme directors in education for sustainable development.

The material in the course draws from the particular challenges that relate to teaching sustainable development as the subject. This is indeed a difficult task, and something that many teachers struggle with. From a general point of view, we consider three building blocks that each has to be given careful attention:

Teaching basic knowledge and facts: some historical background such as the Brundtland commission and the UN conferences from Stockholm (1972) and Rio de Janeiro (1992) to more recent climate conferences eg. Paris (2015); the triple bottom line and the three pillars of sustainability; basics around the Sustainable Development Goals from Agenda 2030; and some terms and abbreviations that we recognise students should definitely know about, eg. LCA, CSR, CO2e etc.

Systems thinking: the world consists of dynamic systems and it is only when students recognise the basics of how systems work that we can truly dig into discussing potential solutions to global issues. It is an extremely strong and important step on the students ladder of understanding, when they realise that they should go beyond linear thinking: that A leads to B, which leads to C that in turn makes D happen – but realising that when D actually affects back on A there is a feedback loop forming! And that feedback loops can be reinforcing development making it happen much faster than first anticipated – or dampening it, making it tremendously slow. This is where we introduce terms such as resilience, system collapses, tipping points, threshold effects, the tragedy of the commons, and perhaps some game theory such as the prisoner’s dilemma.

Normative aspects and perspectives: sustainable development is a subject that is intrinsically driven by normative conceptions, values and opinions, differing stakeholder perspectives, and conflicts of interest. This is also an intrinsic part of any society and addressing societal issues such as sustainability related issues must include a deep discussion about conflicting views. We advocate teaching respect: to respect views that conflict with your own. We address that differences between individuals and organisations is something that we can draw strength from.

Addressing these three building blocks in a classroom is not straightforward. However, it is tremendously important.

During the course, we provide real world examples from our own experience and the participants will also have the opportunity to work hands-on with teaching activities – both in simulated situations and in live events. There will be a lot of individual feedback given to all participants.

What’s next to come is that we are probably going to give one or two exclusive rounds of the course this year at universities that have requested us to deliver it in their premises for their teachers. We are also looking into variants of the course, among those probably an online version as well.

Keep an eye open for updates here on the blog – or even better: of you want to have the latest news about the development of the course directly to your email inbox, sign up for my newsletter (see form to the top right).

Snowflake Education – a comprehensive tool for trainers in sustainability!

The Snowflake Education Online Toolkit for educators is intended for an easy and straightforward integration of the topic of Sustainable Development into any classroom course.

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I will host a workshop seminar demonstrating the toolkit at the EESD16 conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development in Bruges, Belgium. The workshop will take place on Tuesday 6 September 2016 at 9 am. If you are registered for the conference you are welcome to register for the workshop here!

The toolkit is a web based platform that enables teachers to easily integrate a sustainability subsection into their subject courses. The toolkit includes a set of different classroom and off-classroom activities such as online lectures, homework assignments, coursework readings, computerised exams, and teacher instructions on how to give game seminars.

See more info here

Celebrate Earth Day!

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Today, April 22nd, is Earth Day – this day has been designated to celebrate Planet Earth, our own spaceship on which we live, work and spend our leisure time. It is a day to reflect a little extra on how we treat our common environment.

This day is a great opportunity to explicitly express the need for sustainability thinking, in education in particular. It is a yearly reminder that the environmental issues don’t go away. And it is suiting that the Paris Agreement from December 2015 is scheduled to be signed by the United States, China, and some 120 other countries today.

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated worldwide on April 22. It was first celebrated in 1970, and is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network. Events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection and the day is celebrated in more than 193 countries each year.

What is ESD?

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ESD stands for “Education for Sustainable Development” and is one of the foremost tools identified by, among others, the United Nations to efficiently contribute to the transition from a clearly unsustainable global development to a sustainable future. The UN has identified that in order  to  enable  current  generations  to  meet  their needs  while  allowing  future  generations  to  meet  their  own, with  a  balanced  and  integrated  approach  regarding  the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, ESD is not only desirable but a necessity.

Agenda 21 (in 1992) was the first international document that identified education as an essential tool for achieving sustainable development. Since the United Nations adopted the eight international Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, practical implementation of practices for achieving a sustainable development has been one of the priority areas of the UN. Following up on the MDGs, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in 2015 and in parallel with those the UN works hard to gather the nations of the world to negotiate on actions against climate change in the annual Conference of Parties (COPs), the latest being COP 21 in Paris, December 2015.

In December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to dedicate the years of 2005-2014 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). Following this, UNESCO was designated to lead the implementation of the decade for ESD.

ESD has become a movement around the world, many accomplishments being applied through the UN/UNESCO activities and still many more in independent initiatives. Teachers and students in schools and universities around the globe perform tirelessly the concrete work needed for a new generation to become well equipped to take the next great leap of humanity.

At the core of ESD are skills such as interdisciplinary thinking, systems thinking, environmental and social awareness, cooperation, negotiation and constructive dialogue. A sympathetic view towards different stakeholder perspectives and opinions opposite to your own is of key importance for learning many of those skills.

If you want to follow what happens in the world of ESD, please sign up to receive the ESD updates newsletter (see the box at the right column). And if you want to implement education for sustainable development yourself, consider ordering your own set of DILEMMA board games.

Tomorrow is Earth Hour!

Will you celebrate this event for the environment – and how? Watch this video from the World Wildlife Found (WWF) – it’s a great announcement in favour of the occasion.

Each year around this time, media is bombarded by positive and negative voices regarding the phenomenon of Earth Hour. Some people claim that turning the light off one hour in the evening actually makes some difference. Others suggest that the impact is minuscule and therefore that the whole event is pointless. Others still, point out some concrete adverse effects: for example, what people actually tend to do when they turn the lights off is to light candles instead and having a cosy evening – candles that are generally made from petroleum products and thus emitting a lot more carbon dioxide for the amount of light they provide in relation to what electrical lights would had provided…

On the other hand, others claim, Earth Hour is not about saving emissions that specific evening but about increasing awareness about climate change and the exhausting of precious limited resources. The first group may then claim that electricity is the motor of prosperity and turning the lights off is the opposite of what we should do; rather we should turn the lights on to show sympathy with all those that still lack the benefit of abundant domestic electricity.

In the university classroom, current events and recent news are powerful in drawing the students’ interest. I have used Earth Hour for several years as a great news event to start a discussion on different views and perspectives. In the discussion, the opening question could be something like:

“Is Earth Hour a really great idea, or just a meaningless media stunt?”

Stated this way, the opening question is extremely polarised. This makes it easy for people to engage and put forward rather simple arguments. However, as the discussion continuous – and admittedly with some teacher moderation – we eventually land in the conclusion that this event may be regarded a quite good media stunt. Somewhere in between the original positions, it seems.

This question is great for demonstrating that diametrically opposing views often exist that may both very well be rational and correct – even though they are mutually exclusive. This is because sustainable development is a subject that to a large degree is based on values. Depending on your values you probably end up in different opinions. Which is not to say that other opinions than your own are wrong – they may be very right as well, in their own way.

Realising this, is a great leap in itself for many students.

The next step may then be to realise that consensus may actually not be a desirable goal. Rather, it is the differences that are brought in open light through a constructive and open debate that are the most valuable output of the discussion. Realising you opponent’s true intentions and values put you in a position to formulate a compromise that could have the potential of being accepted by all parties.

In classrooms activities, sometimes my students realise that it may be possible to find a solution to real life sustainability issues – complex and unpredictable as they often are – in a compromise that may not be considered perfect by any part but acceptable by most.

When that happens, I feel like I have succeeded in this student group!