Circular economy as a key for industrial value chain resilience in a post-COVID world: what do future engineers think?

Procedia CIRP. 2021:103:26-31. doi: 10.1016/j.procir.2021.10.003. Epub 2021 Oct 20.


While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many disruptions in industrial value chains, the adoption of circular economy (CE) principles appears to be a commendable solution for more robust, resilient, and sustainable industrial supply chains. In this study, the standpoints and visions of two consecutive classes of engineering students - following the course "Circular Economy & Industrial Systems" at the Université Paris-Saclay - are given on how they value CE strategies to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on industrial practices. Capturing and understanding the viewpoints of the engineers of tomorrow on such a pressing issue is key to train and provide them with the suitable methods and tools to build a more circular and sustainable society. At the end of their eight-week training class, including theoretical background on industrial ecology tools, workshops, and a hands-on project, part of the final exam included a one-hour essay in which the students had to argue their position on the following questions: (i) "Circular Economy as an answer to the COVID-19 crisis?" for the class of 2020, and (ii) "Circular Economy as an answer for green recovery and value chain resiliency in the COVID-19 context?" for the class of 2021. Interestingly, the evolution of viewpoints between the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis (exam conducted in May 2020 for the first class) and one year after (exam conducted in Mars 2021 for the second class) is discussed and illustrated. Also, the answers and insights provided by engineering students on these questions are positioned within the state-of-the-art literature on the topic. Last but not least, key recommendations and challenges on how CE could alleviate COVID-related disruptions and production shortages are synthesized in a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities) diagram.

Keywords: COVID-19; Circular economy; engineering students; industrial systems; supply chain resilience.