Leave The Campsite Better Than You Found It | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Leave The Campsite Better Than You Found It

Wendy Jedlicka



Wendy Jedlička is one of the founding faculty of MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program. She teaches Making the Business Case for Sustainability and Packaging Sustainability. Jedlička was recently interviewed by MA Sustainable Design Program Director, Dawn Keene. 

Where are you currently living?

Minneapolis, MN, USA, Earth, Milky Way

What are you currently doing or working on?

In addition to teaching and running my own packaging design firm, I’m currently working on a doctorate in Career and Technical Education. My dissertation is on Teaching Sustainability.

What is the most exciting or inspiring thing you’re working on now?

The amazing thing about researching education for sustainability as part of my doctoral research, is just how much is going on now compared to when we started MCAD’s MASD program in 2004. ALL industries are rising to the challenge. Some more than others of course, but hearing world leaders specifically call out education as an important part of creating the new normal, makes me Christmas giddy.

What has been your proudest moment or project in sustainability or sustainable design?

Being given the opportunity to gather my colleagues working in design for sustainability and creating MCAD’s Sustainable Design Program — bringing together design, engineering, and government policy professionals to create a robust, ground-breaking program that has really stood the test of time. We were ahead of our time in 2004 when we launched the program, and we’re still charting new paths for training future leaders today.

What sustainability or sustainable design projects are you looking forward to working on?

Continuing to help all schools incorporate sustainability into their curriculum. When we formed our Upper Midwest chapter of the o2 Global Network for Sustainable Design (o2.org), we decided our chapter project would be to get sustainability taught in every program, on every campus, everywhere in the US. An audacious goal to be sure, but designers love big audacious goals, and it’s served us well. 

What books have been most influential to your thinking or work?

Naked Economics. It’s not about sustainability, but the author — a full on free market guy — comes to conclusions on his own that support the business case for a green economy. A model based on ever increasing consumption and income disparity is not only not sustainable, but just simply doesn’t work.

What people have been most influential to your thinking or work?

My father and grandfather. They’re the ones who got me embracing this idea early on — “Leave the campsite better than you found it.” It’s a really simple concept, but it captures the essence of what it means to be a sustainability practitioner.

How have you applied what you teach in the program?

As a packaging designer and sustainability consultant, every project is a reflection of what I teach in the program. Circularity in the form of “recover, reuse, recycle” is the most obvious, but getting clients to work toward restorative economic ideas (regenerative design) is even better.

What have you learned from your students?

Too much to count! One of the things I love about teaching sustainability in a multidisciplinary environment means I get to take deep dives into tons of different industries. As I help my students find resources and apply sustainability fundamentals to their projects I get to consider new opportunities my own industry might take advantage of. Super cool!

What do you teach in the program that you wish everyone would learn?

The business case for a green economy is not some far-off utopian concept, but a very real path we are (finally) moving onto right now. The plus point of the COVID pandemic is that we proved on a global scale that we are capable of moving quickly and decisively. Seeing that, governments all over the world are looking at the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a necessary strategy for post-COVID economic recovery.

What recommendations do you have for people considering a career in sustainable design?

Sustainability is a way of problem solving applied to any effort. Be the best professional you can be in any industry, but with a solid foundation in sustainability, and you’ll find opportunities to make serious and long-term positive change.

If you had a magic wand and could completely solve one sustainability problem, what would it be?

Other than to take the politics out of finding solutions for environmental and social justice, we don’t need a magic wand. We have the opportunity to remake everything we do, but get it right this time. As a designer, how could I wish for anything more?!

If you could give all students one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t be shy about making big audacious goals. You only need one or two to make change happen, and to draw-in like-minded professionals to help you achieve them.

What makes you hopeful?

The global shift in attitudes recognizing that business as usual can’t go on. It’s not sustainable — not socially, not economically, and certainly not environmentally. I used to spend about 80% of my client meeting time trying to convince them to move toward sustainability for their design solutions. Today, the discussion is how much MORE sustainable can we make solutions. It’s a wonderful thing! The other thing that makes me hopeful is my students. Having the opportunity to train future colleagues and leaders is incredibly rewarding. While we’re feeling the effects of climate change now, I know we are solidly on the path to positive, and long-term change. Again — how often do you get the chance to remake everything we do, but get it right this time?

What are some key ideas that help guide your projects? 

“Leave the campsite better than you found it.”

“Great design means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Learn More About

Wendy Jedlička, MA Sustainable Design Faculty

Dawn Keene, MA Sustainable Design Director