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Sustainability of Design at The Art Center College of Design, Pasadena

Sustainability is hard... after the fact. Landfills. Pollution. Emissions. Waste. The solution to those kinds of after-effects truly starts in the beginning -- in the product and operations design stage.

The Art Center College of Design is a nearly 80-year-old school in Pasadena, CA that's one of the world's hothouses of art and design innovation.

The Art Center has a new mission that is being embraced by students and faculty alike: to make the private college a global leader in stylish, consumer-appealing designs that also leave small carbon footprints and don't end up in landfills.

In the three years since the Art Center adopted sustainability as one of its core values, students have responded with a wave of imaginative, bold projects.

The Art Center was founded in 1930 at the onset of the Great Depression, a time when designers were searching for game-changing new methods and models to replace ones that were worn out or no longer feasible. Much like today.

In recent years the college of 1,400 undergraduates and 150 graduate students, 22% of them from overseas -- has reshuffled its curriculum by making sustainability a central tenet of everything that its students design and develop. Design's duo of form and function has been replaced by the holy trinity of form, functionality and sustainability.

Eco-consciousness is now a given in many design and architecture curricula, but leaders at Art Center think they are in the vanguard of using it as an organizing principle.

Nikolaus Hafermaas, the college's acting chief academic officer, said that a combination of student demand and faculty awareness caused the school to make sustainability central to its mission, following up on recommendations by the cross-departmental faculty council and a white paper issued five years ago.

Students are encouraged to design products that, if they break down, can be easily disassembled and have their individual parts replaced without having to trash the whole thing.

Design students start at the end -- before they crate preliminary sketches or models, students in the Design for Sustainability class evaluate their projects against a "lifecycle analysis," breaking down their projects into components of "inputs" of energy and materials and "outputs" of emissions and waste, and plot their product's entire projected lifeline, from resources, manufacture and point of sale to consumer use and beyond.

Read more about the Art Center in Pasadena