Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details



Creating a culture of ‘material ethics’ can help engineers and product designers in the quest to achieve environmental sustainability. By framing this particular issue and focusing attention on it, Engineering and Product Design educators can help establish a shared language to undergird students’ conceptualizations of the natural world and instil a healthy sense of interdependency and responsibility. Overall, this paper explores the idea of ‘material ethics’ and presents arguments and applications for building such a culture at the tertiary level. As design educators, the authors of this paper aim to provide a broad and useful overview of environmental issues relevant to Engineering and Product Design Education (EPDE). They examine the role of the university in general and of EPDE programmes in particular in working toward environmental sustainability. They identify ways to integrate environmental topics into university activities and curricula, and they cite a variety of sources to back their arguments. They note that, today, digital environments inform many students’ perceptions as strongly as physical environments. Students’ understandings of the natural environment are now weak due to factors that include digital immersion. In response, the authors urge educators to prompt students’ exploration of issues of environment and materiality. They provide examples to serve as points of reference and inspiration. By helping students recognize moral imperatives, such as achieving environmental sustainability, and helping them assess and implement ‘best practices’ into their design processes, teachers can help shift the prevailing paradigm and prepare students to tackle society’s most pressing environmental issues.