Research

As population and urbanization continue to increase, we will undoubtedly experience demands for critical mineralpeopleworking resources such as platinum group metals, rare earth elements, indium, manganese, and niobium. As reported by the National Research Council in 2008, these minerals—which are used to make LCD TVs, catalytic converters, pacemakers, and other products—are difficult or impossible to substitute and have at-risk supplies.

The Duke Center for Sustainability & Commerce is developing models and databases to track these shifts in an effort to help decision makers better understand the implications associated with these critical resources, necessary to sustain our economy.

Below are some examples of our current research projects:

Supply Networks

Researchers at the Center are working with industry and the government to better understand where, when and how supply chain shifts will take place and what the implications for the economic viability of the affected sectors will be.

Institutional buyers, such as retailers and government, are requiring more environmentally benign products and putting greater focus on transparency in supply networks. We are modeling the environmental trade off’s associated with current industry initiatives such as Just-In-Time (JIT) delivery, which was developed to help meet these goals by reducing waste and improve productivity.

Led by Gurharn Kok, the Duke Center for Sustainability & Commerce is evaluating and documenting shifts in supply chains and markets based on sustainability drivers and developing decision tools to support organizations goals to be more sustainable.

Food and Packaging Waste

Working in partnership with Research Triangle Institute and the Sustainability Consortium, our research team iscompost undertaking a detailed study to quantify the volume of food packing and waste in the United States. The study will look at the product during the crop and processing stages, distribution and retail stage and finally the restaurant and residential stage.

The goal of this research is to explore how to design new innovations that reduce the volume of food and packaging waste discarded each year. Researchers will analyze ways to minimize the volume of waste through alternative packaging designs, consumer education and purchasing strategies. By identifying means to reduce waste volumes we can also reduce the consumption of water and energy used to produce these products.

For more information on the initial report by RTI and the USDA, visit: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/TB1927/TB1927.pdf

Product Impacts

While individual companies or product sectors are focused on determining the impacts a single product may have throughout its life, the Duke Center for Sustainability & Commerce is working to understand the cumulative impacts of all products. An example is modeling the impact of a single car versus the cumulative impacts of all the cars in use within a given geography. This type of research is necessary as there is a long history of applying a reductionist or mechanistic approach to environmental impacts without consideration of broader impacts, such was the case of fuel alternatives such as methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).

The Center is developing models and case studies to provide a greater understanding of these interactions among impact areas and how they affect new product designs, organizational strategies and governmental regulations.

For a recent article by Golden and colleagues at Duke, Stanford and Arizona State universities, visit: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss3/art8/