Sustainable Design


Sustainable-of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged—Merriam-Webster

My students are working in small groups to design a sustainable city. It’s actually an application of a lesson in linear perspective. First, we discuss the detrimental effects of things like pollution and plastics on our environment. Next, we talk about city design. We look at ways that some communities are dealing with these issues. I teach in a religious school, so we also talk about how we should be “good stewards” of this gift of our Creator.


Next I discuss the roles of each member of this “City Design Group.”

Project Manager-Facilitator who works with all members to make sure that everything is going smoothly and that the list of criteria is being followed.

Bid Manager/Writer-This person writes down all suggestions and keeps a tally of what everyone needs to accomplish the task.

Time Keeper/Monitor- This person is in charge of keeping everything on schedule and watches the clock for 5 minutes of clean-up before class ends.

Architect- This person draws out the city that is decided upon by the group. Others may help add color, but this person does the drawing.


As I walk around and observe the process of these students learning to work together, I remind them that all ideas that group members offer should be considered. It is the Project Manager’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has a voice. I also began to notice a trend. The students who were working most cooperatively, giving everyone a voice, supporting one another in their roles, seem to make the most progress in their work.

In one group, a student architect “demanded” that he be allowed to just do his own job without any interference. This dispute seemed to be causing his group to make little progress. I also noticed that the other group members seemed to want to assume his role, because he didn’t want to listen to criticism or suggestions. When I pointed this out to them, I tried to speak from both of their perspectives. I reminded the architect that although it was his job to draw, his responsibility was to draw what is suggested by his group. If people do not feel they have a voice, they will try to assume your position. He understood. His group members nodded.


This event caused me to think about “sustainability” in a different context and from a different “perspective.” Do we realize the importance of sustaining our working relationship with others at our schools, in our homes and in our communities? Not only do we need to constantly seek new ways to keep our planet’s resources sustainable, but since we live and work together with others who think and act differently than we do, we must work hard to move past our differences and find common ground where we can work together. If we simply focus on how others are keeping us from doing our job, then we are not open to the real possibility that others may have a significant impact on how to help us do our job better. Instead of focusing on how others are not listening to us, perhaps we could focus more on listening to them. Instead of focusing on how others are never going to change, perhaps we should focus more on the direction they are moving. Giving others a voice in decision making empowers everyone to want to engage in more meaningful conversations which may help us all focus more on a unified purpose. Above all, when we engage with others, we should do so with an attitude of respect and love.

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”- Philippians 2:3-4

By the way, that group made some progress today. When I asked what changed, they all agreed that it was because they were having more discussions and writing down more ideas. They were being energized by one another. That would be “sustainable” energy. Shine on!