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SUS 7600A Perspectives on Sustainable Materials

Sustainability in the Urban Environment

SUS 7600A Perspectives on Sustainable Materials

Fall 2017. Subject to refinement/updating.

Instructor: Susan Kaplan
Schedule: Wednesday 5:00 p.m. to 7:50 p.m.
Location: Spitzer Building 2M11 A/B
3 credits 3 hours/week


Susan Kaplan LEED AP, CSI, CCS, MAI.


This course provides students with a critical understanding of practicing responsible architecture and engineering from a materials and products perspective. It will cover a full range of complex issues involved in the concept of product life cycle and product selection. Starting by reinforcing the student’s knowledge of material properties they will learn to make the critical connection between material use and serious health, social, and environmental issues. Using current evaluation tools (Pharos, Quartz, Cradle to Cradle and others) students will research the specific impacts materials and products at each phase of the products life cycle. The class will investigate the link between the lives of building materials and lives of people along the route of a product’s life cycle.


This course will provide a thorough understanding of the concept of sustainable materials and products. It will cover a full range of complex issues involved in material/product impact and selection. Analysis of the ecological, social, health, and economic impacts of each phase of a products life-cycle will be a major framework for this course. There has been a huge development of “green material/product” tools resulting from the growing awareness of global environmental problems, need for product transparency, and the realization of the impact of certain chemicals on human health. These advances have caused the creation of a great many standards/certifications, conflicting definitions, and frequent unreliable product claims. Through research, hands-on activities, and exchanges with professional experts, students will learn to navigate the abundant body of “green material/product” resources. Students will be taught to focus their “sustainability” efforts in specific meaningful ways.


Following this course, students will be able to:

1. Prioritize the most important environmental, social, and health impacts of building materials.

2. Assess the global and local implications of using specific materials and products.

3. Successfully employ green material resources and tools.

4. Apply available knowledge to specific contexts in order to make positive choices that promote healthier designs while sustaining the global environment.

Course Requirements

  • Basic Material Presentation: Using textbooks, the internet and articles, students will describe the characteristics of basic materials that form the fundamentals of most building materials, e.g., glass, masonry, textiles, stone, plastics, etc.
  • Midterm Exam: Given as a gauge to measure how successfully the students have integrated the concepts of ecology and material life cycles. The essay portion of the exam should help reinforce the ability to discuss and analyze related issues.
  • Advanced Material Presentation: Using on-line resources, textbooks, and articles, students will choose a material/product that is both innovative and has sustainable implications. They will report their findings.
  • Final Presentation: Students will do one of the following:

Create a small design project and determine 5 materials that would be good environmental choices. The whole process of determining choice must be disclosed.

- OR -

Choose one specific product and trace its entire actual life cycle and show the environmental, economic, and social implications of its use at each stage of its life.


 Method of Evaluation:

• Basic Material Presentation: 20%

• Mid Term Exam: 20%

• Advanced Material Presentation: 10 %

• Final Presentations: 20%

• Final Essays: 20%

• Class Participation: 10%

Course Outline


Date TBA



Assignments for FOLLOWING Class






-Personal Intros

-What are the issues for sustainable materials?

-Class logistics


-Issues reviewed

-Start watching the movie HOME

-“Materials and the Environment Chapters 1 and 2

-“Ecology of Building Materials” Chapters 1 and 2

-“Secret Life” Chapter on Shoes











The Story of Stuff

-How do the basics of ecology relate to materials?

-Using the “Story of Stuff “ to help understand the Life Cycle of Materials

-Story of Stuff viewing and questions

-Viewing rest of “HOME”

-Discussion of the “Shoe “ chapter

-Review of other chapter reading

-“Materials and the Environment Chapter  4

-“Ecology of Building

Materials” Chapters 3, 4, and 5




September Holidays


Prof away


Makeup class TBD-if necessary






Basic Materials

Properties of Basic Materials


-Explore material properties

-View examples of Material Basics Presentation

-Chemistry for Designers: EBN

- Story about Toxins in your life

Write small personal toxin story












How do toxins affect human health in buildings

-Personal toxin stories

-Idea of Six classes


EBN-Certification Article and Certification Report., HPDs, Declare














-Standards and Certifications,

-Material Transparency


-Review definitions

-Connect transparency to toxins

-Review Green Wash examples

-Review LEED V3/V4, LBC on-line, Well

-Examples of Green Wash

-Basic Materials Presentations










Building Rating Systems


-Major sustainability building rating systems and how do they relate to materials and expansion of scope of sustainability

-Review of rating systems

-In class LEED Meeting

-Transparency in Rating Systems

-Review for Midterm

- WBDG article

- EBN: What Makes A Product Green

-Review for Midterm

-Take at home Midterm

-Review “the Pharos Project

-Quartz Project

Mindful Materials











Product Tools

Review of all assigned systems

Product Rating Systems


The Ethics of Brick

(More assignments TBD)













Social Justice


State of current Social Justice  relating to materials and hope for the future

-TED Talk by Van Jones

-Review of the Ethics of Brick

-Review of Midterm

-“Ask Nature”, on-line

-Green Chemistry

-Chapters 1 and 4  from Smart Materials











Beyond Benign


Green Chemistry,


Michele Addington,

New Materials

Green Chemistry,

Michelle Addington


-“Next Industrial Revolution”

-Review on line:  The Pharos Project, Mindful -Materials, Quartz Project,  4specs, the Living Product Challenge











From Scope to Focus


-Scope of term work

-Learning to focus on specifics













From Scope to Focus





-Chart scope of Product Life Cycle and concerns

-Project Scenarios

-Final  project discussion

-Prepare major concepts of final presentation












Work shop for Final Presentations

Final presentation



Final Essay date

Advanced Material Presentations










Final Presentations










Final Essays-Due