Wind Turbines Near Palm Springs by Nathan Niyomtham
Wind Turbines Near Palm Springs by Nathan Niyomtham
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Cindy Gilbert, director of the MA in sustainable design program, discusses her new sustainability toolkit, the growing field of “green jobs,” and an easy way for everyone to use sustainable thinking in their everyday lives.

In a nutshell, what is the Sustainability Toolkit you created?

The toolkit is a brief introduction to sustainable design concepts and sustainability assessment. It was designed for educators who want to begin to integrate sustainability thinking into their classrooms, from design to engineering. It is intended to be an easy-to-use tool for students to apply a whole systems and life cycle approach to their design and invention process.

Who is VentureWell, the organization you collaborated with on the project?

VentureWell (formerly the National Collegiate Inventors and innovators Alliance) is a nonprofit organization that supports the creation of new business ventures from an emerging generation of designers and engineers and supports the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems that are critical to their success.

How did you get involved with them?

I began attending their annual open conference about six years ago. Shortly thereafter, I began applying for their faculty grants to support course and program development for MCAD's MA program. The MA has since received about $40,000 from VentureWell to support new courses and faculty training over the past five years.

Amy Grace 20 Ways to Be Green

Amy Grace ’12, 20 Ways to Be Green


What do you hope the toolkit will accomplish?

It is now embedded in all of VentureWell's entrepreneurial training workshops and this was the primary goal. My dream would be to have this toolkit integrated into every introductory design and engineering classroom. Alternatively, I hope that one day every designer and engineer will get at least a basic education in systems thinking and understand the life cycle of products in order to become conscious and ethical innovators.

“I hope that one day every designer and engineer will get at least a basic education in systems thinking and understand the life cycle of products in order to become conscious and ethical innovators.”

Is there an area where sustainable thinking could really be utilized more than ever (e.g. the increase in online shopping leading to increased amount of individually and overly packaged products)?

Good question. Most areas of industry could be significantly impacted by integrating sustainability thinking into their designs. The fashion industry is ripe for a serious overhaul due to its significant negative social and environmental impacts. Luckily, more and more designers are concerned about the ethics of their work and consumers are beginning to understand the consequences of the cheap goods that are the end products of “fast fashion.” We are seeing more students focused on fashion, jewelry, and apparel design joining the sustainable design program at MCAD and this makes me very hopeful for the future of the fashion industry.

Susan Crow

Susan Crow ’10, founder of East Fourth Street, designs and manufactures eco-friendly jewelry


What new sustainable design project or breakthrough are you most excited about right now?

There are so many exciting projects and developments happening around the globe, it is really inspiring and gives me real hope for the future of the humanity and our planet. There are a few projects happening right in our own backyard with MCAD's MA students, but due to protection of their ideas, I am not at liberty to share, so stay tuned! I'm also familiar with many student projects happening with the support of VentureWell from biomedical devices and clean tech innovations to social innovations that are intended for resource-poor regions of the world.

Is the sustainable design field growing? What kinds of jobs are associated with it?

The “green job” market is growing and there are many new jobs with “sustainability” in the title. However, I am most excited about the less apparent “green” market. All businesses and industries are, or will be, facing the challenges that come with being sustainable from not only an economic perspective but also from a social and environmental standpoint. I get most inspired by the changes our MA alumni are making in “normal” businesses. They bring their knowledge, expertise, and experience to every meeting, every product design, every “regular” opportunity to make effective change wherever and whenever they can—from decisions relating to purchasing, hiring, materials, disposal, design, etc. It is these incremental and ubiquitous changes that will ultimately have the greatest impact.

“It is these incremental and ubiquitous changes that will ultimately have the greatest impact.”

It seems as though the perceived cost of implementation is something that prevents more businesses form taking sustainable measures. Can sustainable design be profitable for businesses?

Yes! As part of the toolkit we make the business case for sustainability. “Inventing green” is the concept that invention-based businesses focusing on developing commercially viable, environmentally sustainable products can have a positive social and environmental impact, while also becoming financially sustainable. The 2017 State of Green Business Report states that “total assets invested that consider environmental issues have grown 77-fold since 2010 and now exceed $7.79 trillion in the United States.”

Trump Tweet Climate Change

Our current president has repeatedly called climate change a hoax and is wreaking havoc on policies aimed at protecting the future of our planet. How do you stay optimistic in a time like this?

This is a sad time in humanity's history. It is hard to grapple with a powerful and influential person who makes false statements and yet remains in a position of power. This time in our collective history is more important than ever to demonstrate community-based leadership. It is a time when each of us need to pitch in to make change because we cannot wait for or trust people in power to do the right thing. I try to stay optimistic by getting involved and connected at the neighborhood, community, and regional level. This is a time when it is easy to fall into a state of despair but my advice is for people to wake up, get engaged, and become active participants in their lives and the world. There is no time to be inactive. Tell your mayors, governors, senators, etc., what you want and why. If something needs to be changed and it isn't happening, think about ways that you can start the initiative. Join your neighbors to embrace diversity, science, and hope in humanity. As a community of creatives, MCAD is poised to make positive and innovative change.

Do you have any tips for non-designers/engineers to live a more sustainable life (either at work or at home)?

Absolutely! Sustainable living begins with a person's mindset and dedication to that mindset. So much of living sustainably stems from being conscious in the world. One easy tip: THINK BEFORE YOU BUY. By simply stopping to think before you make a purchase or throw something away, you can markedly change your impact on the planet. Where will the thing go after its useful life is over? Is it a purchase of convenience or do you really need it? Does it bring true value to your life? This article “The Art of Enough” gives a handful of easy tips as well. Every little decision has the potential to contribute to the solution or the problem; the choice is up to each of us.