Metrics to measure sustainability range from lifecycle analysis and gross national happiness, to carbon footprints and lifecycle costing. There are over 400 eco-labels in circulation that range from the architectural and product mainstays of LEED and Cradle-to-Cradle, to food certifications like Dolphin-safe and Certified Biodynamic. It would be fruitless to presume that there was a universally relevant metric for design programs to institute. And if there were, it would be near to impossible to select and administer.
Instead we are championing the integration of tight feedback loops for self-reflection and evaluation as a critical part of design. We advocate that measurement is integrated into the process, not used as an external evaluator.
This is a current and lively topic because traditional design education programs do not typically measure sustainability as part of student project evaluation. When it is considered, the impact of the resulting materials and/or made-objects is the focus of measurement. Additionally, surface-thinking measurement such as “amount of paper used” is often the depth of the evaluation, and often times attention is not given to why we need this artifact in the first place, or what the short- and long-term environmental, economic, cultural, and social impacts of the project are.
In an effort to fully integrate sustainability into design education, measuring both the final outcome (product, service, artifact) and the design process is integral. Since the decisions made early in the design process have a greater impact than those made later, design educators must integrate tools of analysis into what they teach. Students should utilize metrics as a valuable feedback tool throughout the process, rather than solely a number to target at the end of a project.