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Education for tackling real-world sustainability challenges

How can we develop solutions for persistent sustainability problems, such as environmental pollution, resource depletion, and climate change? The joint master programme Industrial Ecology educates students to become critical researchers or practitioners who can meaningfully contribute to developing solutions.

The programme is a co-operation between Leiden University (Faculty of Science) and Delft University of Technology (Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management). Both universities are at the forefront of the field of Industrial Ecology.

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Margot Moeslinger

Truly interdisciplinary educational environment

The master programme Industrial Ecology is unique in the Netherlands and one of the few programmes in the world combining natural science, engineering and social sciences for science-based solutions for sustainable problems. ‘I have always been very torn between social sciences and learning more about natural sciences and technical sciences. I find it great that this programme connects the different fields. Climate change is a very complex field. You can’t solve climate change issues with one discipline.’, says Margot Moeslinger, master student Industrial Ecology.

 

Working together

The programme does not only involve staff from these three disciplines, but also brings together students from these different disciplinary backgrounds. This contributes to a truly interdisciplinary educational environment. Margot: ‘People work differently. An engineer for example could be very good at recognizing a design for an innovation but a social scientist may be better in involving the different stakeholders. There is such a body of knowledge in our classroom. I gain a lot from the interaction with other students.’

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Energy and Material flows

The analogy between natural and technical systems and processes is at the core of this master programme. Processes in nature, in which cycles are closed and waste from one process is input for another, serve as a model for socio-technical processes. Industrial Ecology is considered to be the ‘toolbox for sustainable development’ and the ‘science for sustainability’. Margot: ‘For example, I heard today that we produce 250 kg waste per year per household. So, how can we reduce this waste production? We can look at this problem in different ways. We can design a system to recycle the waste more efficiently or we can influence consumers to buy products with less waste. And what are the environmental effects of these actions?’

My eye-opener

Margot: ‘Climate change seemed such an enormous problem. But in the course of the programme I learned that each individual has a lot more capacity to act upon. A lot more potential is available, in terms of the technology we can use, the businesses we can create and the people we can engage with in projects. This is a liberating feeling. Instead of worrying, I learn what I can do and what I can change.’

The lecturers and courses

The programme benefits from the complementary strengths of two universities. Lecturers from TU Delft teach courses about technology, engineering and social sciences and lecturers from Leiden University teach courses from the natural sciences. Margot: ‘We also have a lot of guest lecturers from other universities, industries and governmental institutions. We get a broad range of perspectives and approaches. But the travelling between Leiden and Delft can sometimes be a hassle.’

Dr.ir. Eefje Cuppen, Programme director Industrial Ecology:

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Eefje Cuppen

MSc Industrial Ecology is the only sustainability program that involves the three pillars of engineering, natural science and social science, which is made possible through the collaboration between Leiden University and Delft University of Technology. Our students know how to separate sense from nonsense in the complex sustainability debate. They have the expertise that is required for tackling real-world sustainability challenges by coming up with solutions that work not only technically, environmentally or socially, but technically and environmentally and socially.

EIT Master Label Programme

The EIT – European Institute of Innovation & technology has introduced the EIT Label as a certificate of quality that is awarded only to excellent educational programmes. The Climate-KIC Master Programme adds extra value to selected master degree programmes. Margot: ‘As a student from the Industrial Ecology master programme I applied for the Master Label Programme. It offers me a unique opportunity to apply my knowledge.  During the summer school for example I learn how to develop a sustainable start-up. I become part of a community that creates real solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Upon successful completion, I will receive a Climate-KIC certificate in addition to my regular degree.’

The future

Alumni smoothly find their way on the international labour market as researchers, consultants or engineers in fields such as industrial symbiosis, circular economy, climate modelling, reverse logistics and eco-design. Margot: ‘Students work together with municipalities to design sustainable city areas or students work together with the industry to make their energy use more efficient. Ideally we want a city to be as sustainable as possible. I would like to work in the field of urban food production. I think there are a lot of great challenges and there will be a lot of job opportunities.’

Read the TU Delft - IE Student Stories
Read an article in 'Het Leids Kwartiertje': Een week in het leven van een industrial ecology student (Only Dutch)

More information:
TU Delft – MSc Industrial Ecology
Universiteit Leiden - MSc Industrial Ecology

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