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Work in Progress: Incorporating a Circular Economy and an Interdisciplinary Framework Within Engineering Education

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 2: Innovative Approaches for Teaching Environmental Engineering

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Tomeka Carroll University of Virginia

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Tomeka Carroll is a Ph.D. Fellow in the Behavioral Science for Sustainable Systems program at the Convergent Behavioral Scientist Initiative at the University of Virginia. She is also a Research Assistant with the Behavioral Research at Darden (BRAD Lab). Her research interest revolve around circular economy and behavior change, as well adaptive reuse and sustainability. Tomeka received her BA in Spanish from Spelman College and attended graduate school at McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University. Prior to attending UVA Tomeka Carroll worked in the real estate development industry and has consulted with government agencies, international companies, and non-profit organizations.

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Circular economy is foundational to developing long-term sustainable design in that it deviates from linear models that encourage behaviors centered on taking, making, and wasting.As described by the Ellen Arthur Foundation, CE is the “decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system” [1]. The world is shifting closer towards a circular economy (CE) model every day, a prime example is the embrace of circular economy in post-secondary institutions. Post-secondary institutions are fertile ground for adopting CE in part due to increased students’ desire for their universities to lead sustainability efforts. Over 90% of university students noted the desire for sustainable development integration in their place of study, while 70% of students would like to see sustainable development incorporated within classes and 25% have not heard of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [2].

Researchers have not delved deeply into the potential success of CE in education, particularly as a means for practical application in civil engineering. Preliminary studies have found tangible benefits for adopting this approach as it relates to decision-making in sustainable engineering projects [3]. Notwithstanding, the literature has a gap as it relates to the implementation of CE within civil engineering education. This proposed study seeks to close that gap, and will present a framework to support learning about the circular economy within civil engineering practices using a scaffolding (PEA) approach. The framework will transfer a research framework from Pomponi & Moncaster [4] to a framework for engineering education. This approach emphasizes six pillars of the circular economy (Economic, Environmental, Behavioral, Societal, Technological, and Governmental) fits nicely in with existing topics in civil engineering education.

This paper will outline best practices for incorporating circular economy concepts in engineering spaces, along with practical applications in organizational structures within post-secondary institutions, particularly within civil engineering programs.It also contributes to engineering literature by connecting the potential benefit of implementing circular economies in civil engineering projects designed for long-term sustainability [5]. This will lay a foundation for future empirical work assessing the impact of including CE into engineering education and contribute to establishing empirical support for the use of circular economies within these spaces. Often focus is on the immediate project without considering behavioral, environmental, societal and governmental impacts. The implications extend further than the immediate task. This paper provides an opportunity to bridge the gap between education and CE by identifying whether its successful implementation can positively impact long-term sustainability decision-making in engineering, which could have broader implications in other disciplines if the adoption of circular economy in civil engineering spaces proves successful [6].


[1] “The Circular Economy In Detail.” Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Accessed October 13, 2020. [2] “Most Students Want Sustainable Development as Part of All University Courses, Survey Reveals,” October 12, 2018. [3] Sierra, Leonardo A., Víctor Yepes, Tatiana García-Segura, and Eugenio Pellicer. “Bayesian Network Method for Decision-Making about the Social Sustainability of Infrastructure Projects.” Journal of Cleaner Production 176 (2018): 521–34. [4] Pomponi, Francesco, and Alice Moncaster. “Circular Economy for the Built Environment: A Research Framework.” Journal of Cleaner Production 143 (2017): 710–18. [5] Graaff, Erik De, and Wim Ravesteijn. “Training Complete Engineers: Global Enterprise and Engineering Education.” European Journal of Engineering Education 26, no. 4 (2001): 419–27. [6] The 7 key elements of the circular economy - Circle Economy. Accessed October 17, 2020.

Carroll, T. (2021, July), Work in Progress: Incorporating a Circular Economy and an Interdisciplinary Framework Within Engineering Education Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--38172

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