PITTSBURGH — The rise of circular economy principles, where materials are kept in continuous use by design, has led to a new collaboration between Covestro LLC and the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) and Swanson School of Engineering will house the new Covestro Circular Economy Program at the University of Pittsburgh.  

The Covestro Circular Economy Program reportedly represents the first graduate-level circular design academic program in the United States to specifically address the challenge of global waste and material use. It aims to create opportunities for the research, education and innovative advancement of circular economy principles that begin with academia and fuel real-world solutions designed to save the planet. 

The initial funding will help to establish a transdisciplinary academic, research, innovation and cooperative employment initiative to prepare students with circular economy training and expertise to carry into academia, industry, government and NGOs. Pitt and Covestro are also seeking to collaborate with corporations, foundations and governments to expand the program’s reach and potential. 

“The current linear consumption economy of ‘Take, Make, Waste’ is wholly unsuited for exponential global growth, especially as third-world economies evolve,” said Eric Beckman, Distinguished Service Professor and MCSI Director Emeritus and Chief of Innovation and Translation. “Principles of the circular economy, however, improve efficiency and eliminate waste by designing sustainability into a product, from its base materials and construction to packaging, delivery, and life expectancy.”

“Circular design involves a paradigm shift in thinking for everyone, from individuals to corporations to societies,” said Richard Skorpenske, head of Sustainability and Public Affairs at Covestro LLC. “As a leader in driving toward a circular economy, we see the Covestro Circular Economy Program as an important multiplier to build a robust foundation of circularity-focused thinkers, and we are proud to launch it alongside Pitt as founding partner.” 

“I am very excited to apply the fundamental research we’ve developed in circular economy and expand it to create a holistic program with potential global impact,” said Melissa Bilec, William Kepler Whiteford Professor and MCSI co-director. “I believe that, like Covestro, other organizations will see the benefit of engaging in such a program that trains scholar-workers in the many possibilities that circular economy presents. Most especially, the transdisciplinary nature of our program will be its most distinct attribute. As the benefits of the circular economy grow across the globe, the necessity for it to transcend traditional STEM fields will become apparent. This opens our program to anyone with a true passion for sustainability and global impact.”  

The Covestro Circular Economy Program is solving for a gap that currently exists within the academic arena. Professional training in the relevant sciences has not included holistic training in circular approaches. While the private sector embeds circular design principles into its innovation approach, academia has yet to integrate design principles in advanced degree programs. By establishing the program, Covestro and the University of Pittsburgh are providing a dedicated academic setting for passionate students and professionals to innovate new approaches to materials, design, and planning.

Through the Covestro Circular Economy Program, Covestro and Pitt plan to create new fundamental science that supports the assembly of new tools to aid circular design. The Program will enable graduate students at Pitt to become experts in circular economy principles, informed by Covestro’s advances in this area, and ultimately create circular, sustainable products and service solutions. The first cohort of graduate students will be recruited for fall 2022.

For more information, visit www.engineering.pitt.edu/circulareconomy.