April 2024

ImPUlSe Spring School on Sustainable Agro-Food Systems: A Journey Towards Innovation and Collaboration



In the vibrant city of Duisburg, an exciting initiative took place as Master and PhD students from diverse Mediterranean countries gathered for the ImPUlSe Spring School on Sustainable Agro-Food Systems. Funded by DAAD and hosted by the Center for Logistics and Traffic (ZLV) at the University of Duisburg-Essen, this week-long event was a hub of innovation, collaboration, and forward-thinking solutions aimed at creating more sustainable agro-food systems.

The Participants were eager to dive into the intricacies of sustainability, circular economy, and industrial symbiosis. The program was designed to blend theoretical knowledge with practical insights and interactive sessions, fostering a holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities within agro-food supply chains. Experts from academia and practice shared their knowledge on topics covering the sustainable transformation of agro-food supply chains. During field trips, the participants could gain valuable state-of-art insights from the industrial viewpoint:

  • duisport, the world’s largest inland port, showcased its pioneering sustainability standards in logistics and provided an interactive demonstration of their impressive crane simulator.
  • DIALOGistik played a crucial role in bridging the gap between academia and industry, fostering collaborations that enriched the learning experience with practical insights.
  • startport GmbH offered a glimpse into their dynamic logistics incubator and start-up ecosystem, inspiring participants with stories of entrepreneurial innovation.

Collaborative Group Projects

The heart of the Spring School was the group projects, where the students collaborated on four key themes: Olive Supply Chain, Coffee Supply Chain, E-waste Supply Chain, and Eco-Industrial Regions. These projects emphasized circular economy principles and industrial symbiosis solutions, encouraging students to propose actionable research directions. The event concluded with presentations from each group, showcasing their findings, innovative approaches, and promising collaborative research directions for advancing sustainable practices in agro-food systems:


Olive Supply Chain

Exploring the olive supply chain, this group focused on sustainable farming practices, efficient resource utilization, and reducing waste. Their analysis highlighted potential improvements in harvesting techniques, processing methods, and distribution networks to minimize environmental impact.

The participants provided a comprehensive overview of the olive oil supply chain, emphasizing its cultural and economic significance in Mediterranean countries. Life cycle assessment (LCA) as a popular method to evaluate the sustainability of olive oil production encompasses farming, production, packaging, and waste management, identifying key inputs such as electricity, water, fertilizers, pesticides, and machinery, with outputs including olive oil, pomace, and wastewater.

The group highlighted the vulnerability of olive oil production to climate change, noting that decreased precipitation and increased droughts pose significant threats. In terms of supply chain logistics, the importance of temperature and humidity control, traceability, and managing fluctuating demand was underscored. Future scenarios of olive oil logistics should integrate advanced technologies, foster partnerships between stakeholders, implement circular economy principles, and adapt to evolving consumer preferences. Especially the circular economy is a promising approach that suggests utilizing olive by-products for biofuel, animal feed, and sustainable building materials, demonstrating the potential for creating value from waste and reducing environmental impact.


Coffee Supply Chain

The group delved into various aspects of the coffee supply chain, including sustainable production, circular economy practices, and digitalizing processes. With a keen emphasis on implementing sustainable strategies, such as recycling used cups and repurposing waste coffee for energy, the group highlighted exemplary cases in the industry, such as Starbucks and Nespresso, known for their sustainable practices and supply chain management. Additionally, the group acknowledged the challenges faced by the coffee business process, including climate changes, global supply chain challenges, and the importance of quality control. By embracing digital tools in coffee supply chains, coffee production can be optimized, transparency enhanced, quality ensure, and farmers can be empower through access to new markets and resources.


E-waste Supply Chain

To cover the full spectrum of circular economy, including the biological and technological circularity, the students focused on the electronic waste (e-waste) supply chain, and examined various aspects such as supply chain mapping, logistics processes, climate vulnerability, barriers to production, and circular business models. They discussed adaptation and mitigation strategies, including enhancing recycling infrastructure, implementing circular economy approaches, and utilizing green technologies like blockchain and advanced recycling techniques. The group highlighted regulatory hurdles, technological complexities, and data security concerns in e-waste management. They emphasized the need for coordinated efforts among stakeholders to address the multifaceted challenges facing e-waste management and develop sustainable solutions. Additionally, the group analyzed e-waste research publications, recycling rates across different regions, and the impact of the computing industry’s circular economic approach, particularly in extracting gold from e-waste. These discussions culminated in identifying research gaps in e-waste management for future exploration and improvement.

Additionally, simulation models used in e-waste management were explored, which aim to optimize e-waste processing, reduce negative environmental effects, increase resource recovery rates, and promote sustainable practices. The students highlighted the importance of policy and regulations, corporate social responsibility, and emerging technologies in addressing e-waste challenges, maximizing recycling rates, minimizing environmental impacts, and enhancing efficiency in e-waste management practices.


Eco-Industrial Regions

Extending the concept of Eco-Industrial Parks, this group explored the idea of Eco-Industrial Regions (EIRs) by integrating principles of industrial symbiosis, digital transformation (Industry 5.0), and circular economy to promote sustainable industrial practices. Through this approach, the students addressed global challenges such as climate change, resource overconsumption, and economic instability within an EIR. The group explored Indonesia’s steel supply chain, assessing the potential for integrating materials and industries into an EIR and valorizing steel industry waste by identifying opportunities for cross-industry utilization. This included using by-products as raw materials in various industries and producing valuable products like fertilizers and plastics. They also derived selection criteria for location selection of an EIR, assessed candidate materials for integration into the EIR, and conducted a STEEP analysis to discuss the influencing factors for EIR developments and highlighted the importance of EIRs for various stakeholders, including government, industries, and community organizations.