Science Fair Theme Idea: Can Better Design Promote Sustainability?

Can better design promote sustainability – Lelya Acaroglu thinks so. She’s the Director of Eco Innovators in Australia and a self-described “sustainability provocateur, chance-centric designer, educator and communicator.” I just caught her recent TED Talk, “Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore.” She says that when clients ask her to design a product that is eco-friendly she explains that the meaning of that can be more complex than it seems. Listening to her, I was reminded of one of Pop Ed’s activities (The Great Bag Debate from our high school unit on Solid Waste) debating the paper vs. plastic bag conundrum and how many different environmental impacts need to be considered.

In her talk, Acaroglu discusses several problems of consumption and how efficient design that brings about behavior change can be part of the solution to our often wasteful habits. Take food waste, for example. About 40 percent of food we produce winds up in the trash heap or down our garbage disposals. She blames inefficiently designed and overly large refrigerators, which often encourages us to buy more perishable food than we can eat before it goes bad.

Or consider electric teakettles (found in most U.K. homes). Most users admit to filling them with more water than they need for a cup of tea, thus wasting a lot of energy to boil unused water. (Great fact: The energy wasted in boiling that unused water each day could light all of England’s street lights each night!) She points to a proposed design that has two water chambers – but only one that boils the amount of water that the tea drinker actually wants.

So many of our students are wannabe inventors – why not build a classroom project around sustainable design that changes consumption behaviors? With Earth Day just two months away and school science fairs coming up, how about challenging kids to imagine some great new products that will help us be better stewards of the environment? If you do, let us know, and we’ll feature some of the best ideas on our site this spring. Happy innovating!