Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Recently I blogged about how to address Circular Economy considerations in engineering and applied science settings and how companies too can learn to adapt. It is fast becoming a necessity as industry recognizes the criticality of a holistic approach to sustainability. For example, the UK last year announced £22.5m in government funding for five new R&D centers focusing on the circular economy and developing methods to reuse and recover materials that would ordinarily become waste.

Drawing on my interest in embracing the circular economy approach, I have collaborated again with Professor Ugur Tuzun of the University of Cambridge. Our recent Journal of Chemical Engineering & Process article is entitled Cradle to Cradle Systems Analysis for Chemical and Biological Engineers: The Role of Progressive Sampling in Possibility Envelope for Value Added Manufacturing Design and Chemical Process Applications.” 

The article discusses holistic systems interactions using two specific industrial case studies. The potential interactive teaching tools explore a mathematical framework of the principles of holistic systems interactions. At the same time, the article suggests industrial case studies play an increasingly important role in the teaching of systems engineering and sustainability within an industrial ecological framework utilizing metacognitive and experiential learning principles.

Closing the Loop in Holistic Approach to Sustainability

Each individual case study in the article makes use of the “closed loop” optimization of material and energy inflows and outflows to minimize waste and harmful environmental emissions. The attainment of the “closed loop” is achieved by facilitating successive progressive stages of materials and energy recovery and re-processing coupled with the re-utilization and regeneration of intermediate byproducts and waste from each successive processing stage. Available options to minimize harmful environmental impacts are explored by progressive sampling within the possibility envelope.

Via this experiential approach to teaching, the learner (student or operating company) is asked to demonstrate the systematic process of “narrowing down” options and choices through a decision-making process starting off with the lead activity lifecycle, which defines the outermost boundary of the possibility envelope. The scope of all possible actions and consequences is explored and reduced successively by the introduction and consideration of all other life cycles; progressing along a decision pathway that updates and integrates the considerations made under each of the materials and energy life cycles.

This is a valuable way of approaching decision-making, and students and operators can both benefit from this exercise of whittling their choices and weighing possible results. Read the entire article online to learn more about tackling sustainability issues in a holistic manner.  Professor Tuzun and I would welcome the opportunity to assist you.  Please reach out to us.