Research themes

Research and teaching in CES are based around three interrelated themes.

Social and economic research on sustainability: Developing concepts and themes

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.

This theme develops the strong existing interdisciplinary social science research based within CES 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.

Example topic areas include:

  • 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.

See our current and completed PhD research projects in this research theme.

Policy, strategy and governance: Implementing sustainability

Building on our strong links with policy-makers, businesses and NGOs to develop policy and industry-relevant responses to long-term environmental and social issues.

This theme applies the analytic tools which are the focus of the Sustainable Systems theme and the sustainability concepts explored in the Social Research on Sustainability theme to develop specific approaches for corporate strategy and governance and public policy. The emphasis is on bringing the latest research to bear in developing practical approaches to support decision makers and policy analysts confronted with complex issues.

At international, national and sectoral levels, these issues include mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. At the corporate level, this means helping companies to develop positive responses to changing demands from both regulators and the public. This is one of the areas in which the existing EngD programme has already proved itself to be an effective vehicle for active collaboration. Specific topics include:

  • Innovation and regulation for sustainable development
  • Managing low carbon transitions
  • International climate policy and developing countries
  • Business response/strategy towards climate change adaptation
  • Policies for sustainable consumption and behaviour change
  • Corporate social responsibility and sustainability accounting
  • Community-based social change and 'new' social movements
  • International Development priorities and practices
  • Regional development and the role of devolved government

Current and completed PhD research projects in this research theme.

Sustainable systems: Tools for analysis and design

Building on our international reputation in environmental systems analysis to continue to develop and apply a range of inter-disciplinary tools to the analysis, design and management of sustainable technologies, systems and infrastructures.

This theme builds on the long standing strengths of CES in environmental systems analysis, linking to complementary expertise across the campus. The intention is to further develop a range of analytic and modelling tools and techniques for sustainability, informed by the conceptual and empirical research of the Social Research on Sustainability theme. Expertise in established techniques such as Life Cycle Assessment, Value Chain Analysis and Industrial Ecology are built upon to address the strong business and policy interest in areas such as carbon accounting (footprinting), and research will expand into a range of newer approaches such as dynamic simulation, agent-based modelling and approaches to uncertainty. Example topic areas include:

  • Decision support for sustainability in corporate investment and policy design
  • Infrastructure design and implementation - including sustainable cities, supply chains, integration of innovative service delivery
  • Sustainable energy systems and technologies - eg decentralised energy, bioenergy, consumer information, demand management and smart meters
  • Low carbon transitions - modelling a sustainable/low carbon society
  • Water resources management
  • Sustainable agriculture and food systems
  • Transport planning and design - including aviation
  • Commodity and resource flows and waste management - eg electronic goods, construction

Current and completed PhD research projects in this research theme.

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