A commitment to the environment

From the out­set, UTC-Com­pieg­ne has dis­tin­guished itself by pro­mot­ing cur­ric­u­la includ­ing the human and social sci­ences. Its aim is to train ‘human­ist engineers’.

A research project on the envi­ron­men­tal com­mit­ment of engi­neers has been set up with the sup­port of the UTC’s research depart­ment and in part­ner­ship with Antoine Bouzin, a doc­tor­al stu­dent reg­is­tered at Bor­deaux Uni­ver­si­ty.“It’s a project that is as much about stu­dent par­tic­i­pa­tion in the GE90 research sem­i­nar as it is about the IS00 UV, which is at the cut­ting edge of teach­ing. These are rel­a­tive­ly new issues and the body of knowl­edge is far from sta­bilised. Hence the very strong link between teach­ing and research, in con­trast to sub­jects where teach­ing is based on sta­bilised knowl­edge”, explains Hadrien Coutant, soci­ol­o­gist at the UTC-Costech Lab. The aim of the research project? “To try and under­stand the dri­ving forces behind the eco­log­i­cal com­mit­ment of engi­neers. It’s a project based on the fol­low­ing empir­i­cal obser­va­tion: there are a lot of engi­neers in the pro-ecol­o­gy move­ments, even though, para­dox­i­cal­ly, engi­neers are the least politi­cised pro­fes­sion among uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ates”, he points out.

The Marie-Curie project

This doc­tor­al net­work project falls into the “Sci­ence of Excel­lence” cat­e­go­ry of the EC Hori­zon Europe pro­gramme. What is spe­cial about this project? “It aims to fund the­ses and doc­tor­al train­ing in order to cre­ate a com­mu­ni­ty of researchers around an inno­v­a­tive sub­ject,” explains David Flach­er, an econ­o­mist at UTC-Costech and the is ful­ly involved in this project. “We pro­posed work­ing on eco­nom­ic poli­cies for the eco­log­i­cal tran­si­tion. The idea is that if we want to think about this bifur­ca­tion, we not only need to break out of the dis­ci­pli­nary silos, but also out of the aca­d­e­m­ic ghet­tos, by involv­ing oth­er play­ers”, explains David Flach­er. What are the main themes of this project? “We have defined three main themes. The first con­cerns the crit­i­cal analy­sis of the socio-tech­ni­cal dimen­sions of the tran­si­tion. The sec­ond con­cerns the choice of macro­eco­nom­ic sce­nar­ios that take into account mate­r­i­al flows, North-South rela­tions and prod­uct life cycles, for exam­ple. Final­ly, there is a more socio-eco­log­i­cal sec­tion look­ing at the trans­for­ma­tion of organ­i­sa­tions, work, the role of democ­ra­cy and so on,” explains David Flach­er. The project will involve 11 PhD students.

Functional economics

As a senior lec­tur­er in eco­nom­ics, Frédéric Huet quick­ly became inter­est­ed in the issue of sus­tain­abil­i­ty. One of his areas of research? “If we think about sus­tain­abil­i­ty, we have to ask our­selves what changes to the eco­nom­ic mod­el this implies. So we need to think about issues such as the use val­ues to be mobilised, the remu­ner­a­tion to be applied, and so on. I quick­ly became inter­est­ed in the func­tion-inten­sive econ­o­my. In this mod­el, the aim is no longer to sell the goods them­selves, but to sell the use of the goods. From an envi­ron­men­tal point of view, this mod­el presents a num­ber of virtues. On the one hand, we can pool the resources need­ed to pro­duce these ser­vices. For exam­ple, you don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have to own your own car to use an indi­vid­ual trans­port ser­vice. But the most inter­est­ing thing is to realise that from the moment we stop sell­ing mate­r­i­al goods and start sell­ing their use, the pro­duc­er remains the own­er from the begin­ning to the end of the life cycle. Like Miche­lin, we could lease tyres to road hauliers and be paid on which retains own­er­ship of the prod­uct, has every inter­est in ensur­ing that the tyres are as lon­glast­ing as pos­si­ble, since it is the com­pa­ny that bears the costs of the prod­uct through­out its life cycle, and this is excel­lent in terms of pre­serv­ing the envi­ron­ment,” explains Frédéric Huet. Anoth­er axis, trans­verse between UTC-Costech and UTC-TIMR, is per­son­i­fied by Olivi­er Schoefs, Direc­tor of Process Engi­neer­ing at Costech and TIMR, who is also work­ing on bio-waste man­age­ment. This project is designed to meet the require­ments of the Cli­mate and Resilience Law, which, from 2024, will require local author­i­ties to deploy bio-waste recy­cling ser­vices. “In this par­tic­u­lar case, we need to answer a num­ber of ques­tions: what ser­vices should be put in place, what eco­nom­ic mod­el should be used for these methani­sa­tion or oth­er sys­tems, how should they be organ­ised, how will users take own­er­ship of these ser­vices, etc.? Espe­cial­ly as, in the case of bio-waste, unlike a tra­di­tion­al life cycle analy­sis, we are faced with its vari­abil­i­ty from one dis­trict to anoth­er, from one sea­son to anoth­er, etc.,” says Frédéric Huet.


For Hugues Choplin, a lec­tur­er and researcher in phi­los­o­phy and soci­ol­o­gy, low-techi­sa­tion requires “high sci­ence”, a high degree of inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty and, above all, a dif­fer­ent vision of inno­va­tion. More­over, some man­u­fac­tur­ers are start­ing to take this issue on board, lead­ing to con­crete tech­no­log­i­cal research projects. For exam­ple? A research project involv­ing UTC-Costech and Mag­a­li Bosch from UTCRober­val Labs, look­ing at the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the aero­nau­ti­cal indus­tri­al sys­tem in 2050. “With Air­bus Atlantic, we’re look­ing at the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the aero­nau­ti­cal indus­tri­al sys­tem in 2050. Some of the man­u­fac­tur­er’s play­ers want to go beyond the issue of reduc­ing CO2 emis­sions through the use of hydro­gen, for exam­ple, and are look­ing at the cost to the cli­mate of air­craft man­u­fac­ture itself. In this case, how can the pro­duc­tion process itself be low-tech? In oth­er words, move towards a form of ‘per­mafac­ture’, as they call it them­selves”, explains Hugues Choplin.

Tensions between developing renewable energies and maintaining biodiversity

Pas­cal Jol­livet, a lec­tur­er and research sci­en­tist in eco­nom­ics, was approached in response to a call for projects led by Price Water­house Coop­er on “the ten­sions or con­flicts between the devel­op­ment of renew­able ener­gies, on one hand and the main­te­nance of bio­di­ver­si­ty on the oth­er”. “What was inter­est­ing about this project, which I began by devel­op­ing, was that it was based on a mix of exper­tise and research”, says Pas­cal Jol­livet. What was his pre­cise role in the project? “I focused in par­tic­u­lar on “con­tro­ver­sy” in the sense of pub­lic con­tro­ver­sy. What was the idea? The idea was to study the antag­o­nism between the devel­op­ment of renew­able ener­gies and the preser­va­tion of bio­di­ver­si­ty. Hence, I had to recon­struct the con­tro­ver­sies linked to this debate by draw­ing on the social net­works to find out what peo­ple were say­ing on the sub­ject. I drew on two dif­fer­ent sources. The first was what ‘aver­age’ cit­i­zens were say­ing, and the sec­ond was what aca­d­e­mics were say­ing, based on research arti­cles. From there, I com­pared the way in which the con­tro­ver­sy was expressed by research sci­en­tists and how it was expressed in civ­il soci­ety. And I realised that in each group, there was a sort of ‘black hole’, in oth­er words a cer­tain num­ber of unan­swered ques­tions but, above all, that there were sub­jects that were addressed in one group and com­plete­ly ignored in the oth­er, such as the issue of col­lapse, absent from the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty, even though peo­ple made the link between main­tain­ing bio­di­ver­si­ty and the fear of col­lapse”, explains Pas­cal Jollivet.

Le magazine

Avril 2024 - N°62

Faire face aux enjeux environnementaux

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