Theory provides a foundation upon which a collection of shared and divergent ideas can be explored. It is a valuable analytical tool for understanding and explaining sustainable design. Additionally, theory helps to create a commonly referenced set of principles that informs the actions one might take to balance complex environmental, social, economic, and cultural issues. Unfortunately, theory in the sustainability space is considered abstract and removed. In order to be meaningful, theory must be connected to action. Without that connection, theory exists merely for its own sake and becomes purely academic.
Theory is often taught through close reading, and analysis emerges through class discussion. Readings are supported with brief summaries or visual diagrams, helping to clarify materials whose meaning is sometimes abstract and difficult to grasp. While these methods advance the accessibility of theoretical constructs, case studies and personal action accelerate the assimilation of the principles of particular theories. Furthermore, a continuous reference to theoretical constructs throughout the design process helps make theory an active critical lens and benchmark against which to measure achievement.