International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) (7th : 2015)

Multidimensional sustainability assessment of solar products : educating engineers and designers Flipsen, Bas; Bakker, Conny; Verwaal, Martin


Since 2008 the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at the TU Delft hosts the minor Sustainable Design Engineering. The minor has been highly useful as a platform to pilot new ways of teaching engineering for sustainable development. Instead of having students make life cycle assessments and introduce them to straightforward checklists to improve their product designs, we challenge our students to develop a critical understanding of sustainability and use multidimensional assessments. Sustainability is not just about environmental benefits but also about useful products and added value. This paper describes our educational approach in the photovoltaics practicum (part of the minor). Our objective is to illustrate how such a multidimensional assessment works in practice and how it has helped students to develop a more critical, systemic perspective on sustainability. Students are asked to evaluate a PV-powered product on its sustainability by assessing the technology, usability and the environmental impact. To date, over 150 students have followed the minor, which gives us a large database of multidimensional assessments on a wide range of PV powered products. This paper describes the conclusions we have drawn on the validity of our approach. Our findings show that many of the currently available products with integrated PV systems are initially perceived as “green” but after assessing the product on multidimensional aspects students invariably reach a more nuanced perspective, with some products failing to pass the test. Students indicated how the multidimensional assessment has made them better equipped to see through the “greenwash” and give a balanced evaluation of the real value of solar cells integrated in products. The paper will elaborate the methods used in the multidimensional assessment in more detail, illustrated with student work.

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