INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY EDUCATION THROUGH COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH PROJECTS: THE CASE OF TANNERIES
Industrial Ecology (IE) is a recent field that offers appealing solutions for resources depletion, for closing material cycles and for implementing sustainable development in industry (Carrillo 2014). As IE implementation is still in a preliminary step, also IE learning experiences are not completely systematized. Some interesting IE educational experiences have been developed in the Netherlands (Lemkowitz 2004), Norway (Hawkins 2009), Sweden (KTH 2016), Spain (Cervantes 2007), USA (Eckelman 2011), among other countries, but few papers have been published in this field. In Mexico, since 2010, an important effort has been made by the Mexican Network on Industrial Ecology (REMEI) in order to promote a collaborative research-based learning in IE in several Mexican universities.
In this sense, it is important to systematize and publish learning experiences that help students in the way of comprehending and implementing IE. Being part of an IE research project can be a very effective way of learning IE concepts and practices.
In this paper the experience developed by the Research Group in Industrial Ecology (GIEI) of Universidad de Guanajuato in México is described. Students learn how to apply IE working in an IE research project. A group of graduate and undergraduate students collaborate for 1 year or more in a research project and try to find how to apply IE to a process or system, but from different approaches. Afterwards they get their degree in environmental engineering or the master in Sciences and Technology of Water through a thesis. The project chosen this year is applying IE to the tannery sector.
The 6 approaches chosen are:
1) Industrial Symbiosis in the tannery sector in Leon (Gto.);
2) Life-cycle assessment of bovine tanned hides;
3) Water footprint of bovine tanned hides;
4) Valuation of tanneries’ wastes;
5) Choosing the most sustainable valuation of tanneries’ wastes and
6) Technological change and IE in the tannery sector.
Results show that students comprehend the IE concept, know how to apply it either to a system or to a process and discover different IE tools. Students collaborate and exchange knowledge, findings, resources, etc. They learn to share, because the approaches are designed in a collaborative way, not in a competitive one. Visits to tanneries firms, interviews to industrial agents, data collection and flow diagram drawings are undertaken as collaborative activities. They also improve in research capacities, because of the positive and complementary interaction with other students.
This collaborative research approach enhances the quality of the research products. Supervisors usually qualify the theses developed by the students as excellent and of a high level.
The research projects were supported by PRODEP-SEP and Universidad de Guanajuato.
 Carrillo, G (coord.) (2014), Ecología Industrial en México, México DF: Universidad Autónoma Metropitana.
 Cervantes G. (2007) A Methodology for Teaching Industrial Ecology, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 8, 131-141
 Matthew J. Eckelman, Reid J. Lifset, Ioannis Yessios, Ken Panko (2011), Teaching industrial ecology and environmental management in Second Life, Journal of Cleaner Production 19, 1273-1278.
 Troy R. Hawkins, Deanna H. Matthews (2009), A Classroom Simulation to Teach Economic Input−Output life Cycle Assessment, Journal of Industrial Ecology 13(4), 622-637.