Skip to main content
SDUUP | Newsletter December 2020

THEME: TAL2020 - The Great Example – Sustainable Materials in Product Creation

At TAL2020, Lykke Margot Ricard, Associate Professor and Head of MSc Programme in Civil Engineering in Product Development and Innovation, and Research Assistant Sofie Bach Hybel, a former student in the programme, presented their experiences with the course Sustainable Materials in Product Creation. Furthermore, they explained how they have worked with the UN’s SDG 12, which involves Responsible Consumption and Production.

The Background of the Course

The course Sustainable Materials in Product Creation is a new course at the MSc Programme in Civil Engineering in Product Development and Innovation. The course focuses on how entrepreneurship can be taught through the ideas of circular economy and sustainable innovation. The course includes practical work with developing products from materials repurposed from other products. The main idea behind starting the course is that designers and product developers play a key part in developing more sustainable products, as the EU Ecodesign directive has recently pointed out that up to 80% of a product life cycle sustainability impact is determined at the design stage.

In the course, students work with thinking in circular value chains and how to develop products with circular economic principles in mind. Thus, the students work with designing the entire product life cycle and not just the product itself. This means, that the students need to have an extensive knowledge of the materials used in the products they develop.

How the Students are Taught in the Course

In the course, students are split into groups, in which they participate in an array of workshops. Through these workshops, the students learn about the repurposing of materials, system thinking and circular economy. Lykke explains that when developing the course, the department was in contact with companies with expertise in sustainable developments and the reusing of materials. In their groups, the students work with concrete cases through cooperation with real businesses. In order to solve these cases, the students have to come up with ways to repurpose materials from the businesses’ products. Through the cases, students gain an extensive knowledge of materials, reflect on the challenges of recycling and gain experience with building concepts and mock-ups for visualising their ideas.

By letting the students work in groups similar to research teams, the aim of the course was to let the students experience what it is like to work in a both practical and academic way with material driven product development. Furthermore, it gave the students a way to critically reflect on how we can design products more environmentally friendly today and how the materials we choose in the design phase have an impact on, whether materials can be reused or whether they just end up on a landfill, which is the least desirable way to dispose of materials.

Experiences with the Course

Even though the course has only been taught once in the programme so far, Lykke points out an important experience, which has already been gained in the course. Instead of working with classic design thinking in the beginning of the course, from now on the course will be using concrete cases and materials as its starting point. As it turned out, using classic design thinking in the course resulted in ideas, which were too far from what was actually possible. The idea behind the course is to work with circular thinking when designing a product’s entire life cycle and the exact materials used to manufacture the product. Therefore, the course will now focus on a material driven design process aided by tools like software with material databases and lab work.

What the students gain from the course

Sofie Bach Hybel explains the key take-aways from the course for students. First of all, they gain an understanding of the meaning of sustainable design and which design principles it involves. Furthermore, they gain an understanding of how important their role as designers is for sustainable products. Through the business-driven cases used in the course, the students also get to implement the knowledge they gain in the course, in solving real sustainability challenges.

Sofie also mentions that through the students’ work with sustainable materials and the designing of the life cycle of a product, they become better equipped to deal with the changing world they step into when they graduate. She explains that many companies are either already facing challenges or will be facing challenges in the near future when it comes to restructuring their business in a more sustainable way.

As for UN’s SDG’s, Sofie believes that through the course, students gain access to important tools, which will help them incorporate sustainable development goals into their designs and become better product developers.

Editing was completed: 02.12.2020