Integrating an Illustrated Material Life Cycle Assessment (iMLCA) Educational Tool into an
Undergraduate Course in Materials of Manufacturing
Lisa Hix, IDSA, Faculty member, Product Design and Development Program | Keene State College, and Doctoral student, Cleaner Production & Pollution Prevention | University of Massachusetts, Lowell
A course in materials for undergraduate industrial/product design students is an important place to integrate an understanding of sustainability into the selection of materials for products and manufacturing processes. The life cycle thinking concept can be woven through the course to relate the human health impacts, environmental impacts and the resource depletion issues directly to manufacturing material properties, processes and applications. Students can build a life cycle framework for design while thinking about the source and aesthetics of materials used in their design process and in their design solutions. My experience has been that product/industrial design students come to the program with a less than adequate understanding of environmental and human health issues to make connections to these product design implications on their own. To move industrial/product design towards sustainable solutions, the environmental, human health and resources depletion issues need to be integrated into the undergraduate curriculum especially in connection with materials selection.
To help students make these connections, I created an illustrated Material Life Cycle Assessment (iMLCA) educational tool and integrated it into my course in Materials of Manufacturing in the Product Design program at Keene State College during the 2007–2008 academic year. Throughout this undergraduate course, students engaged in projects creating illustrated material life cycle assessments in various material categories. This visually based educational tool for seeking and finding interdisciplinary connections supports the learning styles of most young designers. An integrative approach prepares designers by developing a broad comprehension of the material’s life cycle, extraction, and manufacturing cycles to the product’s end of life and the connections to human health and environmental consequences. As future knowledge workers involved in product design, students need to be able to formulate the appropriate questions and research solutions to improve the sustainability and ecological performance of products. The iMLCA projects nurtured an understanding of the complexities of sustainability issues while building competency with the methods, tools and skills needed to implement change.