Invention & Design:
Putting Environmental Ethics at the
Heart of Design
Brief Description of a Project at the
University of Virginia
Goal: to teach engineering and business students and professionals that the time to consider environmental and ethical issues is at the beginning of the design process, not the end.
Method: Case-based teaching and learning. Cases under development include:
These cases will be evaluated in a fourth-year class required of all University of Virginia engineering students that combines ethics and design. Then they will be disseminated internationally through the Darden School's case library and also the World Wide Web, with links to support materials.
- Designing an environmentally-intelligent fabric, following principles outlined by William McDonough, Dean of the School of Architecture. This case involves research into McDonough's work with Design-Tex, a fabric design firm, and with companies in Switzerland that re-designed their chemical protocols and undertook the manufacture of this fabric. The goal is to show students that design processes can be changed radically based on environmental considerations, and a marketable product results.
- Adapting a solar technology to a developing country. This case describes the work of an inventor of a passive solar system that would heat most of the water in a home. Students are asked to evaluate whether this technology could be adapted to a rural setting in China. This case forces students to confront cultural issues as well as environmental ones.
Related research: These cases, and others under consideration, will serve as a springboard for fine-grained studies of the impact of ethical considerations on design. For example, the McDonough case will be the first step in a multi-year project that follows the emerging history of this new fabric technology and related innovations.
Sponsors: Currently this project is being supported by grants from the Ethics and Values in Science and Technology Program of the National Science Foundation and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.