We lead research into sustainability in the UK as part of a global endeavour
We take up sustainability in the context of the Anthropocene, a time when human behaviours are critically altering the ecologies of the planet. Our social science-led, transdisciplinary approach to sustainability includes socio-political as well as ecological issues and we work with partners in government, NGOs and directly with communities in the UK and elsewhere in the world.
Our Research & Aims
Our aim is to lead social science research to develop sustainable responses to global challenges in four key areas:
- Health - Sustaining health and wellbeing for people living on low income
- Literacies - Literacies, learning and cultural practice for sustainability
- Ecologies - Environmental sustainability under climate change and human activities
- Governance - Reforming governance and management systems of natural resources
Sustainability to me...
Mia Perry, Literacies Lead
Mia specialises in literacies and learning, arts and cultural production, and methodologies of research and teaching. Her work in education spans inside and outside schools, community and public contexts, digital and informal learning. Mia is particularly interested in the interplay of humans and environments, the role of cultural practice and play in learning, and perspectives in research that account for plural views and ways of making meaning.
Sustainability to me...
Jill Robbie, Governance Lead
Jill is a Lecturer in Private Law at the University of Glasgow. Jill's research interest lies within the field of property law and natural resources. She is currently investigating the tensions between social justice, economic development and environmental protection in the context of the law regulating land use. She is particularly interested in analysing these tensions in relation to water.
Sustainability to me...
Jude Robinson, Health Lead
Jude is a social anthropologist teaching and researching in the field of critical public health. Her research centres on developing understandings of how people can develop and sustain their health and wellbeing outside conventional health care settings, with a particular interest in (feminist) research methodologies, visual methods and material culture, gendered inequalities, issues around social justice, alternative moralities and ‘othering’, and the health of women, children and their families.
Sustainability to me...
John Shi, Ecologies Lead
John is a senior lecturer in hydrology and climate change in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies. John is an expert on water and climate research, with interests on modelling and predicting the role of water resources in the climate system and understanding the nature of hydrologic variability and change under changing climate at local, regional, and global scales.
Sustainability Month - December 2020
December 2020 was Sustainability Month in the College of Social Sciences. The Sustainability IRT hosted events, learned about initiatives, heard from community groups and released new content on this page throughout the month to mark global events that tie into the United Nations' blueprint for action, set out as 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
WATCH NOW - Sustainability Networking Event, 7 December 2020
This was a fast-paced opportunity to showcase and connect researchers engaged with sustainability across the College.
Article: Five top tips for ethical clothing consumption in the new year
Currently, UK citizens buy more new clothes than anywhere else in Europe and throw away over a million tonnes of clothing annually (UK Parliament Environmental Audit Committee, 2020). This represents both a challenge and an opportunity to transform our approach to clothing. For many of us we have spent most of the year wearing significantly less of the items in our wardrobes. In our most recent research, we found the stop imposed by the pandemic resulted in time and space to organise, imagine and become more engaged with our clothing. Despite reports of high levels of fast fashion sales during lockdown, we found, those in our research engaged more meaningfully with what they already owned.
Whilst things might look different this year, 2020 has allowed us to reflect on what and who we value. Many of us have tried new things, picked up new hobbies and skills, and connected with our neighbours and local area in new ways. This is also an opportunity to rethink how we approach our clothing, this festive season and going forward:
- Rewear. Organise your wardrobe and celebrate what you already own. Give your clothes a new lease of life, rewear that outfit and reconnect with why you loved it in the first place.
- Repair before you replace. Small rips, holes, missing buttons can be fixed. Check out online tutorials, or visit your local cobbler or tailor
- Buy pre-loved. Opt for second hand over new – check out charity shops, consignment stores and vintage.
- Shop small and local. Support the small businesses who are making products with care whilst supporting that local neighbourhood you have appreciated this year.
- Buy with longevity. Avoid impulse or wear it once buying. Take time and space to think about what clothing you want to invest in and that you will want to keep
As a New Year’s resolution, challenge yourself to get to know what clothing you already own. Tools, such as the Save Your Wardrobe app, can help facilitate this.
If you would like to learn more about our research please contact:
Article: Repair Café Glasgow
Repair Café Glasgow is a voluntary organisation, founded in 2017 on the principles of Repair Café International, and built upon the idea that our possessions have lots of life left in them when we maintain and repair them. Doing this together with others builds social cohesion and combats isolation, while helping reduce the size of our landfills.
It’s no secret that as a society we throw away vast amounts of stuff unnecessarily. The majority of our waste still goes into landfill and recycling options are often limited. Many products are intentionally designed with built-in obsolescence so that their useful life is shortened and we’re forced to buy new. The knowledge and ability to repair and ‘make do and mend’ have been lost over the years and valuable practical skills are not being passed down the generations.
More and more apparent is that our ‘throwaway’ society, fueled by over-consumption of cheap goods, is totally unsustainable. Repair Cafés are a hands-on way to learn how this attitude fails both people and the planet and to take practical steps to do something about it. Repair Cafés are helping to change attitudes by presenting an innovative approach to waste reduction, social cohesion and the transference of craft skills, through the act of repairing, upgrading and maintaining a broad range of products. Items regularly brought to Repair Cafés include furniture, household electrical appliances, electronic gadgets and devices, toys, garden equipment, bicycles, clocks, jewellery, ceramics, clothes and textiles…and much more!
Since its creation three years ago, Repair Café Glasgow has:
- Helped to reverse the loss of practical DIY skills by ensuring that every service user sits with and learns from their repairer as their item is being worked on
- Improved climate literacy and facilitated climate-benefitting behaviour amongst service users
- Decreased feelings of loneliness, social exclusion and
isolation in the community and helped towards increasing self-confidence, happiness and well-
being by offering a variety of volunteering opportunities and community events
- Saved ~5,500kg of items from going to landfill
Blog: Environmental risk and solutions for a sustainable development of Asian river deltas
Nowadays, river deltas are spaces of high vulnerability due to the conjunction of hydro-meteorological and geophysical hazards, fragile ecosystems, social and economic demands, and the effects of human actions on the environment. Between land, large river systems and the sea, river delta waterscapes are generally densely populated places, where communities have developed their livelihoods based on the cultivation of rice, orchards, aquaculture, and capture fishery. Delta communities also interact with habitats including mangroves and wetlands that provide ecosystem services such as honey, firewood, and aquatic organisms. However, upstream dam construction, channelisation and underground extraction of natural resources, in particular freshwater, in the deltas themselves affect water and sediment flows and lead to land subsidence. Communities, and their livelihoods, are also impacted by coincident hazards including river and coastal floods, droughts, cyclonic activities and salinity intrusion.
Our research team at Glasgow’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies focuses on environmental risk reduction strategies in three Asian deltas: the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta in India and Bangladesh, as well as the Mekong and the Red River deltas in Vietnam. This research is a part of the UKRI GCRF Living Deltas Hub.
The tools and the risk assessment we are developing are based on the existing Global Delta Risk Index (Sebesvari et al. 2016; Hagenlocher et al. 2018), which is designed to consider the links between social and ecological systems as a key to understanding the causes of the ecological threats in deltas. With our new approach, we are analysing different components of environmental risk (anthropogenic drivers, exposure, hazard, vulnerability, and coping and adaptation capacities) to support decision making, and ultimately, the selection of optimal solutions for sustainable development of the deltas’ most vulnerable landscapes.
Defining Environmental Risks with Communities
To assess environmental risks, we work with delta communities and stakeholders through focus group discussions and participatory mapping activities in the field. Together, we identify natural hazards, ecological vulnerability, social vulnerability and the relative exposure of coastal socio-ecological systems linked to mangroves, to wetlands more broadly, or to agricultural activities such as rice cultivation or aquaculture.
Boats are waiting to be repaired to transport goods and people across a large channel of the Bengal delta. A woman is collecting some dry wood and leaves from the mangrove to make fire for cooking. @Emilie Cremin, March 2020
In order to understand the complexity of the overall system, in parallel, we are organising online workshops with multidisciplinary scientists, delta experts and delta stakeholders to design ‘cause-effect chains’ (Fig. 1), an analytical tool that helps to understand, systemise and prioritise the factors that drive risk (GIZ, EURAC & UNU-EHS, 2018). Secondary data, and primary data collected through surveys will be processed and visualised in GIS mapping, to prioritise risk factors.
Fig 1. Draft Ganges-Brahmaputrawatershed diagram and related summary of an impact chain Source: Adapted from Emilie Cremin, 2014.
Our surveys have already informed us about the impact of human actions on delta socio-ecological systems: the construction of dams in the river basins captures sediments and stores freshwater upstream decreasing sediment load; the embankments along the riverbed reduce sediment deposits within the flood plain creating river dysconnectivity, which leads to erosion and contributes to the subsidence of the deltas. Moreover, delta experts have also observed that soil salinisation has reduced rice crop productivity. This process is related to freshwater retention by dams during the dry season but could be also exacerbated by sea level rise, as reported by the IPCC (2012). Global warming is the main driver of sea level rise, which leads to increased coastal inundation and salinity intrusion (IPCC, 2012). These processes have important impacts on communities’ livelihoods where they are dependent on agriculture. Therefore, some communities are, for example, changing their livelihoods from agriculture to aquaculture. This change in land use might be irreversible as soils are becoming saline. The transformation usually also negatively affects habitats such as mangroves.
Erosion along a channel leading to a polder in Satkhira district (Bangladesh). The communities are trying to rebuild the embankment during the low tide and the dry season. @Iain Garett, March 2020
Co-produced solutions for the sustainable development of river deltas
The GDRI is designed as a tool for policy makers to inform actions. It aims to understand complex social-ecological systems and how they transform with time. There are many approaches available to reduce environmental risks such as improved early warning systems, engineered structures, and nature-based solutions, which draw on ecosystems’ abilities to provide regulating and provisioning ecosystem services (Cohen-Shacham et al. 2016). Many nature-based solutions have already been proposed to mitigate the effects of catastrophic events, such as restoring mangroves along the coast to retain sediments, mitigate coastal erosion, and dampen wave action. We are also looking at co-produced knowledge and solutions resulting from communities’ local ecological knowledge, engineers’ technical perspectives and ecosystems monitoring, for the sustainable development of delta socio-ecological systems.
Our research project is a part of the UKRI GCRF Living Deltas Hub, funded by UKRI via their Global Challenges Research Fund. The Interdisciplinary Research Hub, one of only 12 awarded, is working across four delta social-ecological systems in Vietnam (Red River and Mekong River deltas) West Bengal and Bangladesh (Ganges Brahmaputra Meghna delta) to achieve UK-ODA objectives of sustainable development for the direct socio-economic benefit of these Low and Medium Income Countries (LMIC). The Living Deltas Hub is an international project that aims to safeguard delta futures in South and SE Asia through more sustainable development and support delta community resilience, coping and adaptation strategies to the existential threats they face. The Hub aims to define risk, vulnerability and tipping points and feed baseline information into sustainable policy. The aspect which makes the Hub unique from previous large delta research consortia is its strong emphasis on delta natural-cultural heritage and how co-created knowledge around this can feed the voices of delta dwellers into the policy-making arena.
Cohen-Shacham, E., Walters, G., Janzen, C. & Maginnis, S. (eds.) (2016). Nature-based Solutions to address global societal challenges. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. xiii + 97pp. https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/46191
Cremin, Emilie. 2014. Entre mobilité et sédentarité : les Mising, "peuple du fleuve", face à l'endiguement du Brahmapoutre (Assam, Inde du Nord-Est). PhD thesis, University Paris 8 Saint-Denis, Center for Himalayan studies. https://www.theses.fr/2014PA080018
Hagenlocher, M., Renaud, F.G., Haas, S. and Sebesvari, Z., 2018. Vulnerability and risk of deltaic social-ecological systems exposed to multiple hazards. Science of the total environment, 631, pp.71-80. http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/159007/
GIZ, EURAC & UNU-EHS (2018): Climate Risk Assessment for Ecosystem-based Adaptation – A guidebook for planners and practitioners. Bonn: GIZ. https://www.adaptationcommunity.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/giz-eurac-unu-2018-en-guidebook-climate-risk-asessment-eba.pdf
Sebesvari Z., F.G. Renaud, S. Haas, Z. Tessler, M. Hagenlocher, J. Kloos, S. Szabo, A. Tejedor, C. Kuenzer, A review of vulnerability indicators for deltaic social–e- cological systems, Sustain. Sci. 11 (4) (2016) 575–590 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11625-016-0366-4
Seneviratne, S.I., N. Nicholls, D. Easterling, C.M. Goodess, S. Kanae, J. Kossin, Y. Luo, J. Marengo, K. McInnes, M. Rahimi, M. Reichstein, A. Sorteberg, C. Vera, and X. Zhang, 2012: Changes in climate extremes and their impacts on the natural physical environment. In: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation [Field, C.B., V. Barros, T.F. Stocker, D. Qin, D.J. Dokken, K.L. Ebi, M.D. Mastrandrea, K.J. Mach, G.-K. Plattner, S.K. Allen, M. Tignor, and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA, pp. 109-230. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/managing-the-risks-of-extreme-events-and-disasters-to-advance-climate-change-adaptation/
Guidance: Doing research in sustainable ways – Sustainable Business Travel for research and teaching
by Sally Wyke, Dean of Research (College of Social Sciences)
International travel is integral to research in leading universities. We travel to conferences and meetings to share research findings and ideas and progress our studies. Interacting with our peers enables our creativity and helps us keep at the cutting edge. Senior colleagues also travel to recruit international students – the lifeblood of our learning and teaching.
But the carbon cost of our travels is not sustainable. Pre-COVID, in 2018/19, business travel (that is, all travel associated with our work) accounted for 20% of our emissions and, as the figure shows, that had been increasing year on year. The main culprit was international air travel.
COVID-19 has reduced our travel massively and increased our use of digital communications. With this experience, we knew we needed to renew our commitment to avoid a rush back to unsustainable practices.
Commitment to equity
To help support all of the actions listed in the University of Glasgow’s Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, Green Glasgow, we developed Guidance on Sustainable Business Travel for Staff and Post Graduate Research Students. As I write, in December 2020, we are in the finalising the guidance for a launch in early 2021.
The guidance is underpinned by a commitment to equity. We know that working internationally is essential for many of us and some travel is unavoidable. But as we work to reduce our emissions from business travel we should prioritise benefits amongst those who have most to gain – those in early and mid-career who are establishing their careers and their networks.
The guidance has five key ingredients.
- Information on carbon emissions
- Decision-making aid(s)
- Monitoring and reporting progress
- Enabling measures/policies
Data is powerful. We already know that business travel accounted for 20% of our carbon emissions in 2018/19, that emissions were rising because of business travel and that was because we were taking more international flights (see figure). New information will become available as we move to a new contract with our travel provider which will allow us to monitor carbon emissions at the level of School and Institute and to look at which grades of staff are creating most emissions
Maintaining reductions in emissions from business travel that we have experienced since COVID will support the University of Glasgow’s commitment to its net-zero emissions target. We have set an important target, taking into account that it must be achievable in the context of our vital international collaborations.
University of Glasgow’s Target for Sustainable Business Travel:
- To reduce emissions from Business Travel from 13,194 ton CO2e in 2018/19 to 5597 ton CO2e in 2029/30
This equates to a reduction of 7.5% year on year, and is in line with recent advice from the United Nations Environment Programme
Four main actions will enable every member of staff, at every level of seniority, in every Service, School and Institute to contribute to achieving this target.
- Avoid travelling where possible – Use alternatives instead, such as teleconferencing and videoconferencing. We now have a lot of experience of that.
- Identify opportunities to fund and use technological solutions for virtual working in grant proposals – especially to support partner organisations which do not have access to high quality virtual working technologies.
- Choose public transport (such as trains) when travel is required
- Maximise the value of any given travel episode – By, for example, combining opportunities for further research links or fieldwork with attending a conference.
The guidance has a decision aid to help individuals decide whether and how to travel – including weighing up the costs and benefits for people at different stages in their career.
Monitoring and reporting
Knowing how we get on in implementing the guidance is critical to its success. We will collate data on carbon emissions from travel booked through our UofG travel provider, add to it calculations of carbon emissions from travel claimed through expenses, aggregate it to the level of the University’s Schools and Institutes and feed the data back to them twice a year, with carbon emissions 2018/19 as baseline. Schools and Institutes will decide the best way to implement a reduction themselves and can learn from one another through our networks. Schools and Institutes will report to their College Management Group twice a year, and the University’s Senior Management Group will also monitor progress.
The University of Glasgow will enable the guidance by some important measures. It will:
- Undertake equality impact assessments to check that guidance and policies on reducing carbon emissions from business travel are proportionate, fair, and equitable, seeking to redress existing inequalities within the sector (by gender, career stage, global inequalities of opportunity, caring responsibilities, disability and other protected characteristics).
- Check promotion criteria so that staff who reduce or eliminate international travel are not disadvantaged.
- Build on staff experiences of working from home during the COVID-19 crisis to prioritise the use of videoconferencing facilities accessible to all staff, with appropriate guidance and support on their use.
- Support and promote the use of alternative means of disseminating research, forming collaborations and engaging with others, such as social media, including advice on how to gather and evaluate social media “reach”.
- Ensure good communication with line managers to prioritise low carbon travel for all staff in decision-making about travel.
- Seek to obtain discounts for low-carbon travel where possible, through the bulk purchasing of season and other tickets from travel providers and developing sustainability discount agreements with, e.g. NextBike, ScotRail and asking the University’s travel agent providing lower carbon travel options at the time of travel requests. See here for current benefits.
- Ask applicants for internal grants to comment on sustainability/environmental footprint on all internal grant applications.
- Advocate for changes in travel patterns throughout the higher education sector, in collaboration with other HEIs and funding bodies.
Contributing to net zero
We know from the consultation on the University’s draft climate change strategy that there is overwhelming support from the University community for net zero carbon emissions by 2035. Students and staff alike are fully behind all actions planned and taken. The business travel guidance, by supporting behaviour change, is an important step towards that.
Webinar recording: Sustainability at scale
Part of the Aspect Annual Event 2020 webinar series, this session – Sustainability at scale: The role of social science research in building long-term solutions – explored how we work across disciplines and sectors to engage with sustainability at a micro and macro level. Featuring a broad range of research and practice at the University of Glasgow and associated partners, the presented approach strives towards a long-term and holistic approach to policy-making and planning for sustainability.