Symposium Examines Shifting Toward a Circular Economy
Nearly 60 experts from the oil and gas industry, academia, government, and nongovernmental organizations gathered for a multisector symposium in February with the objectives of networking and sharing best practices. The symposium, Engineering Solutions for Sustainability: Materials and Resources, focused on the concept of a circular economy.
A circular economy is described as an alternative to a linear economy, in which goods and resources are disposed at the end of their useful life. In a circular economy, goods and resources are used for as long as possible to extract their maximum value before they are recovered. A circular economy requires
- Raw material and energy inputs
- Feasible engineering solutions
- Cross-sectoral flows and linkages
- Effective policy measures
- Education and research
This event was the third in a series on sustainability that started in 2009. The 2009 symposium was influential in the creation of SPE’s sustainability technical section. Key focus areas from the two earlier workshops included
- The engineering system must be affordable and protective of the environment, and it must be consistent with public policies that adequately address the technical challenges across sectors.
- The system must meet the user’s needs over its life cycle, and it must ensure that both short- and long-term operational goals are appropriately considered.
- The system must be acceptable to those affected by its existence.
- Innovation is needed in how resources are produced and managed.
Building on these themes, the various panels at the symposium explored the interdependent roles each play in bringing about a sustainable future. The outcome of these discussions resulted in a vision for a sustainable world where affordable and reliable resources support the social, economic, and environmental needs of a growing population. Key points from the third symposium include
- The role of science and technology has to be better valued by the society as one of the more important pillars of sustainability and circular economy.
- Design and manufacture should be undertaken with disassembly or recycling in mind.
- Mineral resources have byproducts that should be captured and used (e.g., produced water), which can drive the need to shift from primary to secondary resources to move from a linear to a circular economy.
- Companies require a probusiness approach for the circular economy that is integrated as part of the business plan, is adaptive, and reflects an understanding of the cost/benefit relationship of various initiatives. Business as usual will not get us to where we want to be.
- Keep the message simple so everyone knows how they fit.
- There is a need to re-envision technical subdisciplines. New methodologies and tools are needed to share with working professionals.
- When consuming water, out of sight is not out of mind. A focus should be placed on the importance of groundwater.
- Innovation is needed to advance the principles of sustainability, yet it can be stifled by standards and regulations. Regulators and industry need to be partners.
- Do the right projects and do them right (e.g., focus on the outcome). Define the problem and solve it with a diversity of thought, experiences, and professions.
- There is a call to action for multidiscipline and multisectoral professional societies and regulators.
- Universities need to lead and participate in educating professionals with this multiperspective view.