News & Runway

We Asked the World’s Top Fashion Schools: How Are You Teaching Sustainability to Tomorrow’s Designers?

Parsons The New School for Design



Answers provided by Timo Rissanen, Assistant Professor of Fashion Studies and Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design

Is sustainability actually offered as a subject at your school? Yes. All freshmen at Parsons take a course titled Sustainable Systems. Across The New School there are many courses that address sustainability from many angles in countless different contexts, from fashion to forestry to politics. These courses have been cataloged by the Coalition to Confront Climate Change Challenges in Cities. 

What year did you start to incorporate sustainability into your curriculum? In a book chapter Susan Szenasy, currently editor-in-chief of Metropolis, refers to a sustainability-related course she taught at Parsons in 1999; it’s the earliest reference I’m aware of. Parsons has been strategically planning the embedding of sustainability into curriculum since 2004; implementation began in the School of Fashion in 2009. As of 2014, sustainability is embedded into core curriculum within the BFA Fashion Design program.



Are ethics and sustainability an active and growing area of interest at your school, among either faculty or students? Yes. Both students and faculty are increasingly aware of the complex social and environmental issues within fashion and society.

How do you classify ‘sustainability’ as a practice within your school? In 2011, The New School undertook the STARS assessment and received a Silver rating. This assessment covered many areas, from facilities to curriculum and research. In short, it was a useful, holistic exercise to take stock of where we were as a university, and it provided a structure to examine countless different practices within the university and its divisions. 

Are there textbooks that specifically address ethics and sustainability in your school? Students get recommendations for many books on sustainability; this varies from course to course due to subject specificity. A number of Parsons faculty have authored books on the topic, myself included.



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