Published: 26 March 2015

Surrey to host new international research centre on sustainable prosperity

The University of Surrey has been awarded a £6m research grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to establish an international Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP).

Led by the University’s Professor Tim Jackson, an internationally renowned expert in sustainable development, CUSP will establish a five-year multidisciplinary research programme commencing in January 2016. The overall aim of CUSP will be to explore the complex relationship between prosperity (our aspirations for the good life) and sustainability (the social and environmental constraints of a finite planet).

“This is a tremendously exciting and very timely opportunity,” said Professor Jackson. “Our guiding vision for sustainable prosperity is one in which people everywhere have the capability to flourish as human beings - within the ‘safe operating space’ of a finite planet. CUSP’s work will be to elaborate that vision, test its viability and explore its social and economic implications.”

The Centre will take the form of an international network, drawing together expert partners from academic and non-academic institutions and spanning numerous academic disciplines.

CUSP will pay particular attention to the pragmatic steps that need to be taken to achieve  sustainable prosperity.

“It’s very clear that understanding our contested visions of the good life is a vital task for social science,” said University of Surrey sociologist and CUSP co-investigator Dr Kate Burningham. “It’s a task in which sociology, psychology and anthropology are just as important as economics.”

CUSP will pay particular attention to the pragmatic steps that need to be taken to achieve  sustainable prosperity. The Centre will engage with business, government and civil society in order to explore practical actions and propose supportive policies. A core element in this engagement will be a wide-ranging, international dialogue to be chaired by Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

“I’m delighted that Dr Williams has agreed to work with us on CUSP,” said Professor Jackson. “His experience and vision will be a tremendous asset to our Sustainable Prosperity Dialogue.” 

CUSP's work programme, which will commence in January 2016, is split into five themes:

  • Theme M explores the moral framing and contested meanings of prosperity itself. Taking a broadly philosophical approach we examine how people, enterprise and government negotiate the tensions between sustainability and prosperity. 
  • Theme A explores the role of the arts and of culture in our society. We will look not only at the role of the arts in communicating sustainability but at culture as a vital element in prosperity itself. 
  • Theme P addresses the politics of sustainable prosperity and explores the institutional shifts that will be needed to achieve it.  We will work closely with both corporate and social enterprise to test new models of sustainability for business. 
  • Theme S1 explores the social and psychological dimensions of prosperity.  We will work with households and individuals in order to understand how people negotiate their aspirations for the good life. As part of this theme we will engage with UNEP in a major study of young people's lifestyles across the world.
  • Theme S2 examines the complex dynamics of social and economic systems on which sustainable prosperity depends. We will address in particular the challenge of achieving financial stability and high employment under conditions of constrained resource consumption.

Academic partners include:

  • University of Surrey (Tim Jackson, Kate Burningham, Ian Christie, Angela Druckman, Birgitta Gatersleben)
  • Anglia Ruskin University (Dr Aled Jones)
  • Keele University (Prof Andy Dobson)
  • Goldsmiths College London (Dr Will Davies)
  • University of Leeds (Prof Kate Oakley)
  • Middlesex University (Prof Fergus Lyon)
  • York University (Canada) (Prof Peter Victor)
  • University of Canterbury (Christchurch, NZ) (Prof Bronwyn Hayward)

Nonacademic partners include the Aldersgate Group – an alliance of leaders from business, politics and society that drives action for a sustainable economy – who will formally be co-investigators on the project.  Other partnerships include a wide range of business and cultural organisations.

An overview of the Centre’s guiding vision and more detail on the work programme can be found online at CUSP's website. Interested readers can also follow CUSP’s plans on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

For more information on Surrey's research on sustainability and environment, as well as related undergraduate, postgraduate and research degrees, please visit the Environment & Sustainability subject page,

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