The Donut Economy

After a quick breakfast at The Generator and a good night’s sleep, we started our day with a tour of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, an institution that has more than 31,000 students enrolled. An international student attending VU majoring in software engineering gave us a tour of campus. She noted that the university housed more than 6,000 international students, and highly recommended living on campus with other international students if any of us were ever interested in enrolling at VU. I was surprised to see such striking similarities between Pitt and VU buildings. For example, the interior of the central building at VU is incredibly similar to the set up of Posvar at Pitt, complete with a student wellness center, coffee shops, and similarly furnished study spaces. The tour guide explained that the university offers English programs in which all courses are taught in English, making international studying for Americans incredibly accessible. 

After the tour of the university, we had some free time to grab lunch. Nearby, we found an amazing food hall that had stalls selling a variety of international foods. I purchased shrimp pho and a coconut milk cappuccino- it was delicious!

Next we traveled to the Schiphol Airport where we learned about how KLM is utilizing robots to assess airplanes to see if they need repair. KLM has made this transition because it is hard to find workers with sufficient qualifications to meet assessment standards. Increasing automation of repair processes seems to be a trend within the airline industry. On the visit, we were able to tour a hangar in which KLM was updating a plane interior to meet new company design guidelines. It was amazing to see the renovation process as we walked through a deconstructed plane. We climbed down a set of stairs and were able to view the interior of an airplane engine under the wing of the massive machine. It was incredible to see and learn about the high pressure and low pressure elements of the turbine. 

Throughout the tour of KLM’s facilities, our tour guide emphasized how the airline industry has transformed the sustainability of air travel: “before you build, think through how the materials will be used after the product life ends”. This theme has been consistent throughout every site visit I’ve experienced in The Netherlands. Companies here prioritize creating a circular product life cycle that generates little waste in order to sustain a high quality of life for future generations. This approach to business and engineering is essential to the sustainability of our economy. I’m incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to learn about The Netherland’s donut economy first-hand during my undergraduate years.

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