A whole‐systems approach, which seeks to optimize an entire system for multiple benefits, not isolated components for single benefits, is essential to engineering design for radically improved sustainability performance. Based on real‐world applications of whole‐systems design, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is developing educational case studies to help engineers expand their whole‐systems thinking. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the effectiveness of these case studies in multiple sections of a first‐year engineering course.
The comprehension of whole‐systems principles by 165 first‐year engineering students at Clemson University was evaluated through surveys and open‐ended questionnaires, before and after introducing the educational case studies.
The pilot study results show that introducing the case studies improves students' consideration of several essential whole‐systems design concepts. The case studies were particularly effective in strengthening student consideration of the clean sheet approach, integrative design, design for multiple benefits, optimization of the entire system, and the possibility of drastic efficiency increases with current technology.
This study was conducted at a single institution and with a fairly homogeneous group of students. These factors should be considered when interpreting the implications of the findings for other groups.
This preliminary research shows that case study examples like these can help increase consideration of the whole‐systems design approach that leads to improved sustainability performance.
Blizzard, J., Klotz, L., Pradhan, A. and Dukes, M. (2012), "Introducing whole‐systems design to first‐year engineering students with case studies", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 177-196. https://doi.org/10.1108/14676371211211854Download as .RIS
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