The pedagogy of sustainability in higher education : a case study of sustainability in graphic design education


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Publication Details

Author list: Fagerholm, Anna-Sara;Fagerholm, Niklas;Göransson, Karina

Publication year: 2018


In 2016, the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) was tasked by the Swedish government to conduct an evaluation of efforts by universities to promote sustainable development. The results published in 2017 shows that a quarter of the academic institutions meet the criteria set (Fors, Holmquist, Helldahl, Lundh, Öst, 2017). In 1987, the Brundtland commissions report stated that sustainable development can be defined as a development that satisfies todays needs without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy their needs (WCED, 1987).

In the published text “The Uninhabitable Earth” (Wallace-Wells, 2017) the authors run through a number of extreme climate possibilities, and the article is the most-read article in New York Magazine’s history and has spawned a fleet of commentary across the world. In addition, this topic has been noticed for a long time, even in 200 years ago scholars argued that the Earths resources were limited (Jonsson, 2017). Despite insights from history, progress towards a sustainable society is slow (Living planet report, 2016). In accordance, we argue that higher education has a responsibility to examine how sustainability can become more extensive in our educational practice.

Against this background, this presentation aims to exemplify how the academic subject graphic design at Mid Sweden University has redirected towards a sustainable approach – in education, research and external projects. In accordance, Claudine (2017), argues that good design applied to real world problems can lead to major improvements in lifestyle and living standards.

In spring 2014, colleagues of the Graphic Design Program started a project on how sustainable development could be in focus, and a decision was taken to implement UNs 17 sustainable development goals in the education plan. Several new courses were introduced, the design methodology clarified and theoretical perspectives was defined. Today, the graphic design students and researchers at Mid Sweden University promote a Designer as Author perspective (Bestley and Noble, 2016) and the course objectives for the education include being able to demonstrate theoretical and practical design for a sustainable future.


Bestley, R & Noble, I. (2016). Visual Research: An introduction to research methods in graphic design. 3. uppl. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Claudine, J. (2017). Visual Communication and Cognition in Everyday Decision-Making. IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 37 (6): 10–18.

Fors, Y., Holmquist, H., Helldahl, P., Lundh, A., Öst, Y. (2017) Universitets och högskolors arbete med att främja en hållbar utveckling, En tematisk utvärdering. Universitetskanslersämbetet Rapport 2017:12.

Jonsson, B-G. (2017). Inget nytt under solen – 200 år med Malthus In Hållbarhetens många ansikten: samtal, forskning och fantasier / [ed] Andresen, E., Lidén, G.,Nyhlén, S. Sundsvall: Mid Sweden University, 2017, s. 139-139.

Living Planet Report, WWF (2016)

http://www.wwf.se/source.php/1688121/LPR%202016.pdf (downloaded 2018-02-06).

WCED (1987), Our Common Future, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wallace-Wells, D. (2017) “The Uninhabitable Earth, Annotated Edition”


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