Social research on sustainability

Building on our existing interdisciplinary collaborations across the University to develop a strong conceptual framing for sustainable development, using insights and methods from the social sciences.

Developing concepts and themes

This theme develops the strong existing interdisciplinary social science research based within our Centre and across the University. The theme advances conceptual thinking on sustainability and strengthens the base of empirical evidence, underpinning the systems research of sustainable systems.

Drawing on strong interest in policy and business in 'behaviour change' and the social aspects of sustainability, the theme encompasses economic and institutional aspects of sustainability as well as the social and psychological dimensions of environmentally-relevant behaviour. It aims to extend and build upon existing links within the Faculty and across the University, in particular with psychology, sociology, economics, management and law.

Topic areas

  • Sustainable consumption practices and lifestyle choices
  • Environmental values and value change
  • Social impact of flooding and community resilience
  • Business models for the delivery of energy services and carbon reduction
  • Factors underpinning Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Environmental justice for disadvantaged communities/developing countries
  • Modelling sustainable economies
  • Consumer responses to micro-generation and renewable energy technologies
  • Behavioural changes (demand reduction) in the energy/water sectors
  • Fair trade and fair trading: the distribution of profits along the supply chain
  • Wellbeing and sustainability.


  • Project start date: 1 January 2016
  • Project end date: 31 December 2021.

Our guiding vision for sustainable prosperity is one in which people everywhere have the capability to flourish as human beings within the ecological and resource constraints of a finite planet. Our work will explore not just the economic aspects of this challenge, but also its social, political and philosophical dimensions.

We address the implications of sustainable prosperity at the level of households and firms; and we will explore sector-level and macro-economic implications of different pathways to prosperity. We are paying particular attention to the pragmatic steps that need to be taken by enterprise, government and civil society in order to achieve a sustainable prosperity.

For more information please visit the CUSP site.

  • ject start date: 1 October 2015
  • Project end date: 30 September 2018.

The objective of this project was to understand what makes innovations have low-impact at the WEF nexus and, to find out if it was possible to reproduce the conditions for a low-impact WEF nexus at a larger scale, replicate them in other situations, or proliferate them more widely at a smaller scale.

To achieve our aims, we brought together a team with expertise across water, food and energy with physical science, engineering and social science backgrounds. This team built models of a few case studies that have achieved low-impact across the WEF nexus.

Funding was by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.


Principal investigator: Professor Alice Bows-Larkin, University of Manchester


  • Dr Angela Druckman, University of Surrey
  • Mr Darren Lumbroso, HR Wallingford
  • Dr Liz Varga, Cranfield University
  • Dr Ruth Falconer, University of Abertay
  • Dr Dapeng Yu, University of Loughborough
  • Prof Marian Scott, University of Glasgow
  • Prof Catherine Mitchell, University of Exeter
  • Research staff - Dr James Suckling, University of Surrey.

  • Assessment of the economic performance of genetically modified crops worldwide
  • RESOLVE. Research Group on Lifestyles Values and Environment
  • Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG)
  • Linking RESearch and POlicy making for managing the contradictions of sustaiNable consumption anD Economic gRowth. (RESPONDER) and Environment
  • Passage: Prosperity and Sustainability in the Green Economy
  • Welfare, Wealth and Work for Europe (WWWforEurope).

Contact us

Find us

Centre for Environment and Sustainability
Arthur C Clarke building, Floor 2
University of Surrey