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When it comes to sustainability and environmental impact, this Northeastern Ph.D. grad is at the ‘forefront of innovation’

Looking at doctorate programs, Abhijeet Parvatker found a perfect match in Northeastern and Matthew Eckelman, a professor of civil, environmental and chemical engineering.

Abhijeet Parvatker working on a laptop.
Abhijeet Parvatker, Ph.D.’21, researched the contribution of the health care industry to national and global emissions while at Northeastern. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Before arriving at Northeastern University to pursue a doctoral degree, Abhijeet Parvatker worked as a research engineer at one of the world’s largest petrochemicals manufacturers. 

He was a part of a team that measured sustainability of the company’s products, primarily produced from natural gas.

“There is generally a lot of pressure from stakeholders to understand the environmental impacts that the products have,” Parvatker says. 

He used one of the most common methodologies — life-cycle assessment — that evaluates how a product or service impacts the environment over the course of its life cycle, from the moment raw materials are extracted to manufacture the product, to when it is discarded.

Although the life-cycle assessment methodology was standardized, Parvatker says, it was challenging to find the data needed to determine consumed energy, carbon dioxide emissions or toxicity. 

“I soon realized that there are a lot of gaps in this,” he says. “The methods to get to the data are not as evolved, and I wanted to do a Ph.D. with that focus.”

Headshot of Abhijeet Parvatker.
Abhijeet Parvatker, Ph.D.’21, now manages a team of five sustainability consultants at Sphera Solutions, helping companies with large product portfolios address their sustainability challenges and automate calculations and reports with software. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Looking at doctorate programs, Parvatker found Northeastern and Matthew Eckelman, a professor of civil, environmental and chemical engineering, who was doing research in the exact area he was interested in. 

From then on, his life’s work started to take on a larger meaning.

“It was a really good fit for a research project that I had just gotten funded from the National Science Foundation,” Eckelman says. “I felt like he had the experience to carry out this project.”

Parvatker’s research looks at developing new methods and models for generating data for life-cycle assessments and evaluating the sustainability of different chemicals and chemical manufacturing processes.

“There’s something like tens of thousands of chemicals in commerce,” Eckelman says. “We have inventory information on maybe a couple thousands.”  

It was a big and ambitious project, he says, but Parvatker has made a lot of progress. And it’s been extremely useful, Eckelman says, to the global community.

“I am always getting questions about papers that Abhijeet and I wrote together,” Eckelman says. “People wanting to use the data, wanting to adapt the techniques that we use to generate the data.”

Another project Parvatker worked on was analyzing the environmental impact of intravenous anesthetic drugs used by medical institutions.The health care sector makes a considerable contribution to America’s GDP, Eckelman says, which means that to reduce the country’s carbon dioxide output into the atmosphere, health care must become more sustainable. 

However, pharmaceutical companies don’t share much data about the inputs of chemicals they use in a drug, Parvatker says, for proprietary or other reasons.

He used chemical engineering principles, process design and physics and chemistry knowledge about these products to calculate inputs and outputs. He looked at 20 intravenous anesthetic drugs and about 140 different chemicals, building life-cycle inventory data for them.

“It’s still the largest study in the pharmaceutical sector for those chemicals,” he says.

Together, Parvatker and Eckelman wrote some of the first papers about the contribution of the health care industry to national and global emissions.

“These numbers are quoted all the time,” Eckelman says. “And then the National Academy of Medicine opened up this big effort called the Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the U.S. Health Sector. And now we’re invited to be a part of that because of his work.”

Parvatker earned his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering back home in India and his master’s degree in advanced process integration and design from the University of Manchester before being accepted into Northeastern’s Ph.D. program.

Parvatker says the university takes experiential learning to the next level by encouraging students to apply their research in the real world through programs such as LEADERs.

Short for Leadership Education Advancing Discovery through Embedded Research, LEADERs is a customized internship program for Northeastern doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers.

Parvatker credits the program — and his internship at Wayfair that resulted from it — for introducing him to the world of sustainability consulting. At Wayfair, he was tasked with creating guidelines for vendors on the use of chemicals based on the U.S. and the EU regulations. He also gained experience in chemical safety and supply chain management.

After completing his doctoral degree program, Parvatker was offered a full-time job at Sphera Solutions, a provider of consulting services, data and software solutions for risk management and monitoring of environmental, social and governance performance. 

He currently manages a team of five sustainability consultants who help companies with large product portfolios address their sustainability challenges, automate calculations and reports on ESG with Sphera’s software. 

“Imagine companies that have tens of thousands and millions of products,” Parvatker says. “With some initial effort of six months to one year, you can scale the life-cycle assessment methodology to the entire product portfolio and calculate all the life-cycle assessment results for tens of thousands of products in hours.”

Parvatker loves working with different companies, different processes and different people.

“In this space of the implementation of this methodology, we are always at the forefront of innovation,” he says.