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Ian Christie

Senior Lecturer
+44 (0)1483 689612
10 BA 02

Academic and research departments

Centre for Environment and Sustainability.


University roles and responsibilities

  • Academic and research management

Affiliations and memberships

Royal Society of Arts
Global Action Plan
Trustee/advisory group member
Telefonica UK Sustainability
Trustee/advisory group member
Trustee/advisory group member
Green Alliance
The Futures Company
Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development
IEMA, International Society for Industrial Ecology
Green Alliance
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Town and Country Planning Association
International Association for Environmental Ethics


Research interests

Research collaborations

My teaching

My publications



Christie, I and Ritchie, N (eds)(1991), Energy Efficiency: the policy agenda for the 1990s, Policy Studies Institute: London.

Carley, M and Christie, I (1993; second edition 2000), Managing Sustainable Development, Earthscan: London.

Christie, I et al (1995), Cleaner Production in Industry, Policy Studies Institute: London.

Peer-reviewed papers and book chapters

Christie, I and Jarvis, L (2001), 'How Green are our Values?', in Park, A et al (ed), British Social Attitudes: the 18th report, Sage/NCSR: London.

Christie, I (2010), Human Flourishing and the Environment: paper for CAFOD/Tearfund/Theos programme on Human Flourishing and International Development.

Christie, I et al (2010), Ethical, Social and Behavioural Dimensions of Climate Change: paper for UK Cabinet Office Foresight Programme study on International Dimensions of Climate Change.


Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015The current generation of older people who are approaching or recently experiencing retirement form part of a unique generational habitus who have experienced a cultural shift into consumerism. These baby boomers are often portrayed as engaging in excessive levels of consumption which are counter to notions of sustainable living and to intergenerational harmony. This paper focuses on an exploration of the mechanisms underpinning the consumption patterns of baby boomers as they retire. We achieve this through an understanding of the everyday practices of grocery shopping which have the potential to give greater clarity to patterns of consumption than the more unusual or ?extraordinary? forms of consumption such as global travel. In-depth interviews with 40 older men and women in four locations across England and Scotland were conducted at three points in time across the period of retirement. We suggest that the grocery shopping practices of these older men and women were influenced by two factors: (a) parental values and upbringing leading to the reification of thrift and frugality as virtues, alongside aspirations for self-actualisation such as undertaking global travel, and (b) the influence of household context, and caring roles, on consumption choices. We conclude with some tentative observations concerning the implications of the ways baby boomers consume in terms of increasing calls for people to live in more sustainable ways.
O'Riordan T, Lenton T, Christie I (2014) Metaphors and Systemic Change,
© The British Academy 2013. All rights reserved.Tipping points are metaphors of sudden change, of fear, of falling, of foreboding, and of failure. Tipping points are thresholds of tolerance, of bifurcation, and of transformation which are built into complex systems of transformation. Sudden change can arise from earth system phase changes (for example in the condition of ice, ocean acidity, drying of the tropical forests and the onset of monsoons). But they can also depict rapid shifts in geopolitics, local and regional conflicts, and in economic performance with implications for the well-being of societies all over the globe. The patterns of suddenness and aftermath of physical and socio-economic systems vary greatly. Tipping points can lead to unintended worsening, to induced vulnerabilities, to chaos and confusion in communication, and to the scope for restorative redirection. The scope for benign transformation is an intrinsic aspect of the tipping point metaphor.
Christie I (2014) Turning the Tides? Parallel Infrastructures and the Revolt of the Corporate Elites, Addressing Tipping Points for a Precarious Future
© The British Academy 2013. All rights reserved.The forces which impede transformational tipping points are very strong, entrenched and locked in. To overcome these will require polycentric governance, cooperating corporations, alliances between civic and religious groups, and the onset of more autonomous yet accountable local and regional governance. These may form parallel infrastructures of change in corporate ethos and accounting, in the ecological awakening of religions, and in the effective democratization and economic autonomy of local governance.
Abbas K, Christie I, Demassieux F, Hayward B, Jackson TD, Pierre F (2013) Sustainable consumption and lifestyles? Children and youth in cities., In: ISSC, UNESCO (eds.), World social science report 2013: Changing Global Environments
Melville E, Christie I, Burningham K, Way C, Hampshire P (2017) The electric commons: a qualitative study of community accountability, Energy Policy 106 pp. 12-21 Elsevier
This study explores how energy might be conceptualised as a commons, a resource owned and managed by a community with a system of rules for production and consumption. It tests one aspect of Elinor Ostrom?s design principles for successful management of common pool resources: that there should be community accountability for individual consumption behaviour. This is explored through interviews with participants in a community demand response (DR) trial in an urban neighbourhood in the UK. Domestic DR can make a contribution to balancing electricity supply and demand. This relies on smart meters, which raise vertical (individual to large organisation) privacy concerns. Community and local approaches could motivate greater levels of DR than price signals alone. We found that acting as part of a community is motivating, a conclusion which supports local and community based roll out of smart meters. Mutually supportive, voluntary, and anonymous sharing of information was welcomed. However, mutual monitoring was seen as an invasion of horizontal (peer to peer) privacy. We conclude that the research agenda, which asks whether local commons-based governance of electricity systems could provide social and environmental benefits, is worth pursuing further. This needs a shift in regulatory barriers and ?governance-system neutral? innovation funding.
Clift R, Sim S, King H, Chenoweth JL, Christie IP, Clavreul J, Mueller C, Posthuma L, Boulay A, Chaplin-Kramer R, Chatterton J, DeClerck F, Druckman A, France CM, Franco A, Gerten D, Goedkoop M, Hauschild M, Huijbregts M, Koellner T, Lambin E, Lee J, Mair SJ, Marshall S, McLachlan M, Milà i Canals L, Mitchell C, Price E, Rockström J, Suckling JR, Murphy RJ (2017) The Challenges of Applying Planetary Boundaries as a Basis for Strategic Decision-Making in Companies with Global Supply Chains, Sustainability 9 (2) MDPI
The Planetary Boundaries (PB) framework represents a significant advance in specifying the ecological constraints on human development. However, to enable decision-makers in business and public policy to respect these constraints in strategic planning, the PB framework needs to be developed to generate practical tools. With this objective in mind, we analyse the recent literature and highlight three major scientific and technical challenges in operationalizing the PB approach in decision-making: first, identification of thresholds or boundaries with associated metrics for different geographical scales; second, the need to frame approaches to allocate fair shares in the ?safe operating space? bounded by the PBs across the value chain and; third, the need for international bodies to co-ordinate the implementation of the measures needed to respect the Planetary Boundaries. For the first two of these challenges, we consider how they might be addressed for four PBs: climate change, freshwater use, biosphere integrity and chemical pollution and other novel entities. Four key opportunities are identified: (1) development of a common system of metrics that can be applied consistently at and across different scales; (2) setting ?distance from boundary? measures that can be applied at different scales; (3) development of global, preferably open-source, databases and models; and (4) advancing understanding of the interactions between the different PBs. Addressing the scientific and technical challenges in operationalizing the planetary boundaries needs be complemented with progress in addressing the equity and ethical issues in allocating the safe operating space between companies and sectors.
Martin G, Clift R, Christie IP (2016) Urban Cultivation and Its Contributions to Sustainability: Nibbles of Food but Oodles of Social Capital, Sustainability 8 (5) pp. 409-409 MDPI
The contemporary interest in urban cultivation in the global North as a component of sustainable food production warrants assessment of both its quantitative and qualitative roles. This exploratory study weighs the nutritional, ecological, and social sustainability contributions of urban agriculture by examining three cases?a community garden in the core of New York, a community farm on the edge of London, and an agricultural park on the periphery of San Francisco. Our field analysis of these sites, confirmed by generic estimates, shows very low food outputs relative to the populations of their catchment areas; the great share of urban food will continue to come from multiple foodsheds beyond urban peripheries, often far beyond. Cultivation is a more appropriate designation than agriculture for urban food growing because its sustainability benefits are more social than agronomic or ecological. A major potential benefit lies in enhancing the ecological knowledge of urbanites, including an appreciation of the role that organic food may play in promoting both sustainability and health. This study illustrates how benefits differ according to local conditions, including population density and demographics, operational scale, soil quality, and access to labor and consumers. Recognizing the real benefits, including the promotion of sustainable diets, could enable urban food growing to be developed as a component of regional foodsheds to improve the sustainability and resilience of food supply, and to further the process of public co-production of new forms of urban conviviality and wellbeing.
Melville Emilia, Burningham Kate, Christie Ian, Smallwood B (2018) Equality in local energy commons A UK case study of community and municipal energy, il Mulino; Italian Review of Sociology 59 (2) pp. 315-342 Mulino Publishing Company
This paper considers the intersection of institutional mechanisms for creating
and maintaining commons with mechanisms that increase or decrease inequalities
in wealth, power and dignity. This is explored in the context of the development
of local energy systems, based on a case study in a UK city. It explores
different conceptions of fairness and equality among those working towards a
local sustainable energy transition, and how this affects the way that inequality
manifests, is perpetuated, and is challenged. The paper explores the inclusion
and exclusion of participants in the community energy sector, which has been
criticised for being mainly white, middle class and male; the distribution of
financial benefit from renewable energy through community investment or municipal
ownership; and the focus on people in fuel poverty relative to people
who overconsume energy. It concludes that although a commons approach to
local energy can risk exacerbating inequalities, it also provides opportunities
for increasing equality, of wealth, power and individual dignity. These require
commitment, and need to be designed into evolving local institutions.
Oakley K, Ward J, Christie Ian (2018) Engaging the imagination: ?new nature writing?, collective politics and the environmental crisis, Environmental Values 27 (6) pp. 687-705 White Horse Press
This paper explores the potential of ?new nature writing? ? a literary genre currently popular in the UK ? as a kind of arts activism, in particular, how it might engage with the environmental crisis and lead to a kind of collective politics. We note the limitations of the genre, notably the reproduction of class, gender and ethnic hierarchies, the emphasis on nostalgia and loss, and the stress on individual responses rather than collective politics. But we also take seriously the claims of art to enable us to imagine other futures, suggesting that new nature writing has the potential to play a role in collective forms of environmental justice and capabilities.
Burningham Kate, Venn Susan, Christie Ian, Jackson Timothy, Gatersleben Birgitta (2014) New motherhood: a moment of change in everyday shopping practices, Young Consumers 15 (3) pp. 211-226 Emerald Publishers

The purpose of this paper is to draw on data from 16 interviews (two each with eight women) to explore some of the ways in which everyday shopping may change as women become mothers. The meanings, practices and implications of the transition to motherhood have long been a topic for sociological inquiry. Recently, interest has turned to the opportunities offered by this transition for the adoption of more sustainable lifestyles. Becoming a mother is likely to lead to changes in a variety of aspects of everyday life such as travel, leisure, cooking and purchase of consumer goods, all of which have environmental implications. The environmental impacts associated with such changes are complex, and positive moves toward more sustainable activities in one sphere may be offset by less environmentally positive changes elsewhere.


This paper draws on data from 16 interviews (two each with eight women) to explore some of the ways in which everyday shopping may change as women become mothers.


This paper focuses on the ways in which modes and meanings of everyday shopping may shift through the transition to mother, and on indicating any potential sustainability implications. The paper explores the adoption of more structured shopping and of shifting the mode of grocery shopping online or offline. The paper draws attention to the way in which practices are embedded and interrelated and argue that more consideration needs to be given to the influence of all household members.


The question here is not whether women purchase different products or consume more once they have a child, but rather how does the everyday activity of shopping for groceries and the meanings it has change with new motherhood and what sustainability implications might this have? In this context, this paper provides a novel addition to research on new mothers and consumption.

Positive spillover occurs when changes in one behavior influence changes in subsequent behaviors. Evidence for such spillover and an understanding of when and how it may occur are still limited. This paper presents findings of a 1-year longitudinal behavior change project led by a commercial retailer in the United Kingdom and Ireland to examine behavior change and potential spillover of pro-environmental behavior, and how this may be associated with changes in environmental identity and perceptions of ease and affordability as well as perceptions of how participation in the project has helped support behavior change. We draw on both quantitative and qualitative data. Study 1 examines quantitative data from the experimental and a matched control group. Study 2 reports qualitative findings from a follow up interview study with participants of the experimental group. As expected, we found significant changes in reported pro-environmental behavior and identity in the experimental group as well as some indications of behavioral spillover. These changes were not significantly associated with changes in environmental identity. The interviews suggested that group dynamics played an important role in facilitating a sense of efficacy and promoting sustained behavior change and spillover. Moreover, the support by a trusted entity was deemed to be of crucial importance.