Developing Partners for Sustainable Learning in Green Graphic Design

For some years now I’ve been developing the teaching in ‘Green’ or (possibly better described as) ‘sustainable’ graphic design techniques as part of the Graphic Design and Multimedia degree course at the University of Worcester. In order to broaden the experiences and learning of students in this area further, I’ve also been developing both links and lecture visits with other specialist organisations outside of the University.


One of these organisations is the Worcester Resource Exchange – a ‘scrap store’ of post industrial materials allied to the Duckworth Trust and based in the city. We’ve also developed links with the larger Centre for Alternative Technology (or ‘CAT’ as it’s often known as in shorthand) based in Machynlleth, mid Wales. I firmly believe as a lecturer that not all learning takes place within the classroom and that facilitating students to both engage with and see other experiences on site at such places can be hugely beneficial to them too. This comment doesn’t just relate to the students’ learning experiences, but rather it also relates to the galvanising effect on a cohort that an occasional trip or visit outside of the University can also achieve.

Green Graphic Design

The Green Design module’s link with CAT has been evolving year on year now for nearly a decade. Students have benefitted from a range of new perspectives that the staff and facilities on site there have provided. In particular I want to highlight their ground-breaking latest research into how we might practically start to ‘decarbonize’ the British economy – which is called ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ (again known in shorthand as ‘ZCB’). This body of findings is the output of many years of painstaking research and analysis by specialists at CAT. It compares where we are now with resource and power use and where we could potentially be – albeit if we started to make small, practical changes to the ways in which we live. Now this might immediately worry readers of this article, who are probably imagining us at this point going back to the horse and cart – but CAT’s vision is anything but this. They see a modern-day society that is less oil and gas reliant and instead is more efficient with it’s use of fuels and one that has also invested more in diversifying heat and power generation utilising more renewables and other related technology.

Closed loop cycles

Linking with such external organisations brings various additional benefits to students and we’ve now adopted a core set of considerations that focus around working towards the core idea of a ‘closed loop’ of product development & usage. Closed loop cycles are also a key theme within CAT’s own ZCB research too if we’re to effectively lower our resource uses. In practical terms, this asks students to look at a lowered, ‘cleverer’ and more sustainable use of resources in their packaging solutions for their ‘live’ clients. Crucially, it also means that students are introduced to the idea of a ‘second use’ for their packaging concepts too.

Second solutions

Their latest project for regional sustainable brewer Oldfields Orchard Cider (Hobsons) actively encourages them to seek a follow-up use for their packaging once it has safely delivered the goods/bottles to the intended user. This could take one of many forms and in previous projects students have designed their packaging so it easily dismantles as traditional pub games, into small recipe books, and in one case rice paper spice tabs to be put directly into cooking. While there’s often no ‘ideal’ second use solutions, the idea is that students experiment and suggest additional ‘value added’ features for their packaging concepts that either delay or even stop the pack going into the waste systems by ultimately transforming it into another appropriate and useful artefact. While this idea isn’t brand new, the industry appears to be slowly changing and there are more and more sustainable design and packaging precedents appearing now that students are actively bearing in mind for their own concepts.

CAT Educational Lectures

Green Design students were fascinated by CAT’s ZCB research at a recent lecture and workshop on site in the unique Sheppard Lecture Theatre – one of the largest ‘rammed-earth’ structures in Europe. CAT Educational lecturer Ann MacGarry discussed many of the research’s salient findings within their ZCB proposals.. The debates to be had in this area clearly impacted on many of the students – who had only seen overviews to date but nothing in this in depth. Reactions were broad and when audio-interviewed en route back to Worcester, student comments included:

With (the concept of) ‘Zero Carbon Britain’, I really do think it’s achievable – but I think it’s only going to be possible by getting politicians to ‘pull their fingers out’ – it won’t happen without new legislation.. There’s only so much individuals can do really.


I found the visit and lecture really interesting, a lot of people talk about sustainability and low impact living but CAT seems to actually ‘do it’. I thought their ethics were really interesting too – not taking funding from big business or being biased or in anyone’s pockets.

Despite the broad-ranging nature of the day’s lecture, students could clearly see how these additional layers of information and context could widen their thinking with their own sustainable packaging projects ongoing. Third year graphic design student Jimi O’Doherty adds:

It (the lecture) was broad in nature – but I think much of the information was transferable and I’ll be bearing some of it in mind when I’m thinking about my further packaging ideas.

Students on the Green Design module will be completing their sustainable packaging outputs for this year’s ‘live’ brief set by sustainable regional beer and cider maker Hobsons in January 2015.

More information

CAT’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ research

The Centre for Alternative Technology 

Images and student comments from the latest Green Design module trip and lecture at the Centre

Previous sustainable packaging concepts (incorporating second uses and ‘closed loop’ thinking) for the Wye Valley Brewery:

#greendesign #universityofworcester #graphicdesignandmultimedia #sustainabledesign #hobsons #centreforalternatetechnology #andystevenson #zerocarbonbritain

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Michael Hillis
Michael Hillis
9 years ago

Really thought this article was interesting. I think it’s a good idea that ‘Green Design’ is an optional module for Graphic Design students because it makes them think about the environments. I do Drama at the university and I’m convinced a module in ‘Green theatre’ would prove to be popular here. The university of Exeter already offers this I feel more departments should introduce these optional modules to spread awareness.

Andy Stevenson
Andy Stevenson
9 years ago

Hi David, thanks for the comment.. Yes, in our case we have the excellent Worcester Resource Exchange (scrap store) in the city and they have an amazing array of post industrial materials which both our art and design students already re-use and incorporate into various projects.. I agree, the more we can work and think in these terms with the next generations, the more this scenario will hopefully become ‘the norm’ as opposed to the exception.. There’s still much work to do in our case but we’ve had a few successes via working in this manner already and intend to keep building on these year on year..

David Chapman
9 years ago

Local recycling and upcycling of industrial byproducts is an important concept. It will help to reduce travel polution and hopefully make businesses realise that their waste is still valuable and that it doesn’t need to be thrown away.

Working with partners will help share this view and message to those further afield to champion this concept to other areas.
If we can begin the teaching and learning of the next generation at this malable time we can set up the world for a positive future.

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