Weslynne Ashton is an Associate Professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology with joint appointments at the Stuart School of Business and the Institute of Design. She also holds a faculty affiliate (courtesy) appointment in the Armour College of Engineering, Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. Dr. Ashton is a sustainable systems scientist, whose research, teaching and practice are oriented around transitioning our socio-ecological systems towards sustainability and equity. She studies the adoption of socially and environmentally responsible strategies in business, and the role of innovation and entrepreneurship in addressing social and environmental challenges. Her research is grounded in industrial ecology and the circular economy. Her current work focuses on increasing sustainability and equity in urban food systems, and developing regenerative economies in post-industrial regions, newly industrializing countries and small island states.
Project 1: Sustainability and Equity in the Food System
We work with the Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC), the Midwest Consortium for Equity, Research and Food Policy (M-CERF) and a network of farmers, food producers and community entrepreneurs and organizations to understand sustainability and equity issues in individual organizations and the larger Chicagoland food system. We work with these partners to co-create strategies for improving sustainability and equity outcomes in the food system, particularly addressing opportunities for increasing food accessibility and entrepreneurship in Black and Brown communities. We are currently analyzing patterns and opportunities around "Food Hubs" that work collaboratively with groups of farmers, to connect them to consumers and institutional buyers, while providing a suite of support services to them.
Project 2: Industrial Ecology & The Circular Economy
Our current economic systems create tremendous impacts on the environment, and unequal burdens on different human communities. Industrial Ecology is an interdisciplinary field aimed at analyzing the relationships between humans, our industrial activities and the environment, through tools such a material and energy flow analysis, life cycle assessment and environmental input-output modeling. It is premised on the idea of nature as a metaphor for the sustainable organization and operation of industry. The Circular Economy envisions an economic system in which resources are utilized efficiently and capital is regenerated, so that human activities operate within the limits of nature. We are developing theories, tools and interventions at the intersection of science, design and management for transitioning to sustainable systems, with partners such as Plant Chicago. This includes work on industrial symbiosis, or inter-organizational collaborations to effectively manage energy, water, material and waste resources, business models for the circular economy, and incorporating justice and equity into new regenerative economic activities.
Project 3: Food Waste
In 2022, Prof. Ashton will begin work with the Multiscale RECIPES for Sustainable Food Systems project, which brings together over 40 researchers and 14 institutions connected with organizations working across the food system to advance the science needed to make our wasteful food system sustainable, equitable, and resilient. Our work will focus on mapping wasted resources related to food (food, labor, diverse knowledge, vacant land/ facilities, cold storage capacity) in peri-urban Chicago, utilizing a multi-capital resource-mapping framework. In collaboration with other researchers on the RECIPES team we will develop strategies for optimizing multiple objectives in the food system (e.g., human and ecological health, community wealth building) at multiple levels, particularly individual, community and region, and prototype these solutions with our community partners.
Link to Weslynne Ashton's research web page: https://sites.google.com/iit.edu/weslynne-ashton/home