Our overarching goal is to help develop the knowledge, tools, and methods necessary to reduce the environmental impact from industrial production and consumption.
In our research we use the approaches and methods of industrial ecology, such as life cycle assessment and material flow analysis, to assess pollution prevention strategies based on reuse, recycling, and material and technology substitution. We also combine these approaches with research methods from other disciplines in order to study the relationship between environmental performance, economic viability, and technical and operational feasibility of pollution prevention strategies.
Life Cycle Assessment
Life cycle assessment (LCA) quantifies the potential environmental impacts of products and services across relevant environmental concerns and life cycle stages. We advance LCA theory and practice to help identify environmental hotspots and avoid trade-offs when changes are made within or across product systems.
Reuse & Recycling
Reuse and recycling have the potential to significantly reduce the environmental impacts of industrial production, but suffer from widespread misunderstandings. We advance the theoretical understanding of reuse and recycling and explore the implications of these advances in case studies.
Material Flow Analysis
Material flow analysis (MFA) quantifies how materials move through the economy, from production and use all the way to their final fate. MFA is a key tool for sustainable materials management since you cannot manage what you don’t measure. Our MFAs are known for their rigor, novelty, and comprehensiveness.
We use the approaches above to study environmental sustainability challenges across many sectors. Some of our most impactful work has focused on the industries shown below. Click on the buttons below each sector to learn more about the work we do and to access sector-specific publications.
Global plastic production increased from just 2 million metric tons (Mt) in 1950 to well over 400 Mt today and continues to grow. The resulting flood of plastic waste is threatening environmental and human health and has created a formidable waste management challenge. We have emerged as a leader in the study of plastic production, use, and fate through MFA and LCA.
All over the world, energy systems are being transformed in order to mitigate climate change. Photovoltaic (PV) technology is playing a central role in these transformations. We study the environmental and economic performance of PV systems, from microgrids to utility-scale plants, including PV waste generation and recycling.
The automotive sector is going through dramatic changes in order to reduce the environmental impacts caused by the well over 1 billion vehicles in use worldwide. We use our expertise to compare the environmental performance of automotive fuels, power trains, and materials. We also continuously improve the methods used for such comparisons.
Metals have been used for millennia and are a symbol of the industrial revolution. Global annual production of steel alone now stands at 1.8 billion metric tons, a figure that dwarfs those of all other materials (with the exception of cement and bricks). We have a long track record of studying production, use, and recycling of metals through the use of MFA and LCA.