The word sustainability is now everywhere; used correctly and, often, also incorrectly.
While before we exchanged courtesies on the weather standing in the lift, today we talk about weather anomalies, climate change and unsustainability.
The same thing happens in professional contexts, where sustainability has, fortunately, become a constant goal, indispensable and - for better or worse - strategic.

But how can we move forward in this scenario? Do we really know the meaning of this word? Do we have educational models and tools to push us in the right direction?

We can safely say that today there is a "sustainable generation", born in a historical period in which the issues around sustainability are addressed as early as pre-school, with experience-based and seminar-style teaching activities.However, these activities are often not structured, and above all, are left to the discretion of individual teachers, without the support of adequate teaching materials (books, labs, teaching toolkits, IT platforms) or the right knowledge. 

Sustainability can now be defined as a new science, based on an integrated, trans-disciplinary approach, focused on studying and interpreting the complexity of the interactions between economics, society and nature, in order to propose concrete solutions to complex problems, which threaten the very survival of humanity at a local and global level.

The issue of sustainability has been seen for a long time as a limit (see Limits, the theme for INNESTI no. 6): a restriction on doing, producing and consuming.
On the contrary, today it emerges that sustainability is above all an incentive to "act", and before that, to "think", in a different way.

It is an opportunity to innovate: sustainable innovation.

One sector that has been able to understand the urgency of this problem is design. 
According to the World Design Organization, eco-friendly design is a strategy to resolve problems, driving innovation, creating business success, and leading to a better quality of life through innovative products, systems, services and experiences. 

The dialogue between the disciplines of design and sustainability is therefore inevitable, and it is already active, to be reinforced in areas where the advantages of a design oriented approach are not yet known.

Design was the first discipline to introduce modules on environmental standards for design into its training courses, and, again, among the first to establish entire degree courses focusing on Sustainable Design.

Today, promoting the social role of design and orienting future designers towards awareness and responsibility when it comes to social and environmental issues is a consolidated practice for all degree courses in Italy and internationally.
At the foundation of any training for contemporary designers is disciplinary contamination, or interdisciplinarity: the meeting of diverse backgrounds, an original fusion of knowledge, collaboration between heterogeneous realities in terms of vision and strategy, and participation in experiences shared between the real world and the digital world.

These are the foundations of the inter-university degree course in Sustainable Design for Food Systems, organised by the University of Parma and the Turin Polytechnic. This course is developed to train designers in the food sector with awareness of the environment, society and production systems. Two universities in dialogue with lively ecosystems of authorities, companies and organisations that have been working for some time in food production and access.

Along the same lines as this teaching model, the project for a Professional Master's Programme in Eco Packaging Design - Systemic Innovation Design was created three years ago at the Turin Polytechnic's Specialisation School. This is a training course that addresses the strategic and project-based aspects of design, communication and sustainability for packaging, with an interdisciplinary approach. A Professional Master’s Programme that combines functional and communicational aspects with the issues of sustainable materials, production processes and behaviours. The interdisciplinary project workshops weave together three different but complementary disciplines (materials, processes and design), providing students with the tools necessary to face the complexity of the topic of packaging.

These two projects are considered best practices in terms of training for sustainability, providing examples of possible paths to take in order to respond effectively to global, and especially local challenges, in both the short and long term. These paths urgently need to be built in corporate and administrative contexts, but especially in all those institutions with the goal of training and educating the citizens, workers and decision-makers of the future: universities.

It is urgent, because we talk more and more about multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity, but these are approaches that are not easy to apply in present-day places of study: inflexible institutions, often highly bureaucratic, extremely closed in order to protect knowledge and power, often afraid of debate.
University education should be seen as a strategic intervention that influences the way students will translate the resources available to them into skills that will then become concrete actions.
The programmes offered often do not involve the students in activities, tasks and projects that would allow them to acquire the basic resources to translate into necessary abilities and skills.

It is clear how important it is to change the way we think about education at all levels. Design thinking, the inclination towards sustainable design, and mastery of advanced technological tools are all things that connect the profession of a designer, the world of education and the digital world.

In order to make this mediation effective, it is necessary to stimulate engaging interaction between teachers, students and young people in the university world, encouraging processes of mediation and innovative interaction, and introducing new teaching methods that are practical, logical, relational, communicative, individual and delocalised, inspired by movements such as "making" pedagogy, citizen science and educational activism, methods which are already approved by professionals in the educational field. 

This means that there is still a lot of space for more innovation. Sustainable, of course.


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N° 7


Taking practical, collective, circular action.
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