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  • Lars Lawson

John W. Sutherland: IRC Recycling Rock Star

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Celebrate the awesomeness of John Sutherland by making a donation to the IRC in his honor. Your tax-deductible contribution will help the IRC reach its 30th Anniversary fundraising campaign goal and helps fund our education and advocacy projects – and more

John Sutherland is a professor and the Fehsenfeld Family Head of Environmental and Ecological Engineering (EEE) at Purdue University. The EEE is a unique department that embraces industrial sustainability and environmental engineering. Since he came to Purdue in 2009, the department grew into one of the largest environmental engineering programs in the country. In his career he has mentored over 100 students, published nearly 400 papers, and worked on many projects funded by industry and government valued at approximately $50 million. 

In the 90s, Sutherland pioneered the new field of sustainable manufacturing where products, processes, and systems are designed to avoid environmental challenges. Until the early 1980s, quality assurance was pursued by inspecting products and removing the defective ones, but all too often little was done to avoid producing defective products in the first place. Sutherland built on ideas founded be quality pioneer W. Edwards Deming. Deming removed the “faults” that create defects in the process to improve quality and cost.

Sutherland began supporting a “circular economy” well before the phrase was popularized. Since the early 1990s, he has closed the loop on products, components, and materials. He reuses, remanufactures, recycles, and rethinks products and processes to reduce waste. 

Sutherland has collaborated with many companies including Ford, General Motors, and Caterpillar. Within Indiana, he has partnered with Cummins, Zimmer Biomet, Nucor, Evonik, BioTown AG, and Tate & Lyle. Much of his industry interactions have focused on sustainable manufacturing in the circular economy. 

A loyal friend of the IRC, Sutherland presented at the IRC Annual Waste Reduction Conference in June 2019. He spoke on “Green Manufacturing and the Circular Economy.” He and others from EEE recently collaborated with Allyson Mitchell, Director of the IRC, to secure a Wabash Heartland Innovation Network Grant that  focused on promoting recycling in the 10-county region surrounding Lafayette. 

From contributing pioneering academic research to advancing the circular economy, Sutherland impacts on the environment. Fighting environmental challenges is not easy, but he believes it’s everyone’s responsibility. “The environmental challenges we face are daunting,” Sutherland said. “We need smart people to develop innovative engineering solutions.”

Written by Joli Finley


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