Published: 04 June 2014

Professor Richard Murphy becomes Director of CES

The University has appointed Professor Richard Murphy – an expert in Lifecycle Assessment and bio-based materials – as the new Director of the Centre for Environmental Strategy (CES).

Professor Richard Murphy took over the role of Director on 1 June 2014, having joined the Centre at the beginning of 2013. He was previously Reader in Plant Sciences in the Division of Biology at London’s Imperial College.

Originally trained as a fungal and plant biologist, Professor Murphy became interested in sustainability through his work on fungal damage to wood, and his subsequent experimental research using fungi and biomass to create fuels and biomaterials. He is past President of the Institute of Wood Science (now part of the Institute of Materials) and a member of DEFRA’s Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee.

Professor Murphy was also one of the early pioneers of LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) – today acknowledged as the most valid way of measuring the environmental sustainability of materials, products and services – in the early 1990s, and has advised the UK Climate Change Committee on LCA for bioenergy systems.

As he takes over as head of the University’s Centre for Environmental Strategy, Professor Murphy has a strong vision for its future role, which will include focusing even more closely on the links between sustainability and lifestyles. This will continue the internationally renowned work at Surrey by Professor Tim Jackson and colleagues, for example in RESOLVE (Research Group on Lifestyles, Values and the Environment) and the SLRG (Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group).

Professor Murphy says, “I think one of the tremendous strengths of CES is that it integrates people from natural science and engineering backgrounds with those from a social sciences background. By having conversations between these disciplines, we are able to look at sustainability not just as a set of policies or technology solutions but as something that needs to influence behaviours.

“Ever since the Centre was set up by Professor Roland Clift some 23 years ago – one of the first of its kind in a UK university – there’s been an awareness that you need both dimensions to effect real change.”

Professor Murphy believes that this special dimension of the Centre’s work is a result of the work of all CES staff, while the Centre’s outgoing Director, Professor Matt Leach, has played a key role. Professor Leach will remain within CES, pursuing his research and teaching agendas in sustainable energy.

Part of the role of the CES is to train the future practitioners of sustainability. Professor Murphy plans to broaden access to the Centre’s postgraduate taught modules, which are widely respected in the industry.

“We get excellent feedback on our MSc modules and, reflecting this, our Lifecycle Thinking (LCT) course has recently been selected to be promoted through the National Centre for Research Methods. I’d like to enable more people to benefit from our programmes by accessing our modules on a Continuing Professional Development or similar basis as well as via traditional full- and part-time MSc routes and, in the future, potentially through distance learning.”

The Centre’s long-standing, and developing, EngD (Engineering Doctorate) programme – which enables students to spend up to four years based with a relevant company as a researcher – has also been very successful, with over 40 students currently placed with organisations such as Sony, Thames Water, Nestle and Unilever amongst others.

Looking ahead, Professor Murphy believes CES can play a major role in influencing government policy, both nationally and internationally, as we enter a new phase of environmental awareness.

“I think sustainability is transitioning strongly into industry. It’s genuinely now being taken up at Board level, but the real task is to identify the most practical metrics and indicators, and to develop systems that will have broad societal acceptance and implementation. With its international reputation and outstanding network of contacts, I see CES taking a high profile, leading role in this transition.”

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