Melissa Bilec is an knowledgeable on reuse, and he or she doesn’t must look far for an instance of it finished effectively: Simply close by is Scorching Steel Bridge, a former steel-mill construction that she helped convert right into a pedestrian and bicycle bridge.

“From historical past, we are able to see these visions of sizzling metallic ladles going throughout the bridge, and I believe that’s so emblematic of Pittsburgh’s historical past,” she stated. “Quick-forward to at present, serious about different transportation — I believe there’s simply a lot symbolism there about reuse and the way we needs to be designing for the longer term.”

A 3-time alumna of Pitt’s Swanson College of Engineering (ENGR ’97, ’99G, ’07G), the William Kepler Whiteford professor and co-director of the Mascaro Middle for Sustainable Innovation has a historical past with the College’s sustainability efforts that goes again a long time — she even labored with the middle as a graduate pupil.

Bilec’s Pittsburgh ties run deep, too. Raised within the area, her household was affected by the metal trade’s collapse, and at present she sees a particular position for Southwest Pennsylvania in remodeling the financial system into one thing extra sustainable. That regional focus additionally guides her analysis. Together with Bilec’s work on environmental justice and the reuse of development supplies, she has lately targeted on what’s referred to as the round financial system: programs that allow merchandise to be reused as an alternative of sending them to landfills.

A round financial system, Bilec stated, provides a method to fight two dire international challenges: local weather change and the brittleness of provide chains, the latter of which has turn into more and more seen over the previous two years of shock shortages and drastic worth will increase.

“I believe everybody can agree that the worldwide provide chain has largely failed,” she stated. “Fascinated by the right way to create sturdy areas that may be self-supporting is vital for our path ahead, together with significant employment and equitable alternatives.”

These rules additionally information one of many newest tasks she’s helped lead: a collaboration with the polymers and plastics firm Covestro to create a brand-new graduate program the place college students will be taught to design merchandise that may later be reused or that break down in ways in which don’t hurt the surroundings.

Most selections about recycling or reuse, Bilec explains, happen on the finish of a product’s life. “However the true innovation lies when you consider the start of design,” she stated. That very same strategy can be utilized in any respect ranges of the financial system. “In case you have the molecular designer speaking with the product designer and the constructing designer and town designer, you begin to notice all of the completely different areas the place design wants to vary to foster round financial system methods that may help in local weather change.”

Bilec will train a course on round financial system design within the fall, a part of the diploma program for PhD college students. However this system will span a variety of disciplines, together with legislation and provide chain points, which are mandatory for college kids to grasp in the event that they’re to deal with such a posh drawback. College students will even be capable to intern at Covestro and different trade and nonprofit companions.

This isn’t Bilec’s first foray into crafting instructional packages. She developed the M.S. in Sustainable Engineering diploma and helped develop the undergraduate sustainability certificates.

Now, as co-director of the Mascaro Middle, she’s poised to steer sustainability efforts on the College on a good bigger scale. The middle’s management is engaged on a strategic plan to information its work for the subsequent 5 years at a time when Bilec sees a vital mass of help in Pitt’s management for sustainability rules and recognition of the urgency of environmental points.

“Local weather change is our greatest problem, and Pitt needs to be a part of the answer,” she stated. “Now we have so many alternative strengths in sustainability throughout the College. We simply want to tug all of them collectively and double down on our funding.”

Bilec hopes many Pitt sustainability leaders can play key roles in making that occur. For her, it’s merely a continuation of what she’s been doing all alongside. From when she was a graduate pupil, the branching paths of her profession have all been directed by one query, she stated.

“On the finish of the day it’s: ‘The place can I’ve the largest constructive influence?’”


— Patrick Monahan


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