University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Northstar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise

The Issue

Pressure on finite global resources will continue to increase, due to both rising population and increasing demand for goods as the standard of living in developing parts of the world increases. With the anticipated global population of 9 billion and a quadrupling of the “consuming” middle-class, global throughput of materials are forecast to triple by 2050. These indicators point to a need to drastically decouple resource consumption and waste generation from economic growth in order to maintain global environmental health.

Our Approach

Today’s resource sustainability challenges have fundamentally changed – from ones that were local and isolated to ones that are global and interconnected. The dynamic complexity of material cycling creates a need for models and tools to examine how the interaction between complex system structures of material stocks and flows, feedbacks and time delays determine system behavior. Through the extension of a modeling approach developed by the NiSE at the Institute on the Environment, this initiative explicitly addresses factors critical to both firm-level capital investment and material sourcing decisions and the broader institutional-level governance and policy supporting these decisions.

We are currently approaching this work through the investigation of multi-level and multi-actor systems associated with the development of underutilized markets for recycled plastics.

Potential Impact and Expected Outcomes

This initiative is developing relevant stakeholder-driven models and applications, delivering decision tools capable of identifying and addressing key opportunities, risks and resiliency of material cycling systems, and accelerating technical, managerial and policy decision-making toward improved material efficiency.  Current projects include mapping the demand for post-consumer recycled plastics and modeling post consumer material flows.

NiSE is a program of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.

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