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Systems perspectives on sustainability in business

Sustainability science is an approach to understanding and advancing sustainable development that starts with a problem (such as climate change) and builds up knowledge of how it can be resolved.

Projects usually involve colleagues from across several academic disciplines working collaboratively. Given that this work is focused on problem-solving, it often includes close collaboration with organisations outside the university who experience the problems being investigated and/or are part of the problem resolution.

Tab Content: Food systems

Dr Lingxuan Liu is part of two main projects focusing on food system sustainability, resilience and innovation: SIRIUS and Rurban Revolution.

SIRIUS (Sustainable, Innovative, Resilient and Interconnected Urban food System) is a consortium between Lancaster University, The Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT), and Chinese Academy of Science, led by Dr Liu. The project explores how global food production and consumption interacts with specific case cities - in China and Europe - and regions, and envisions how we could repurpose both urban systems and food systems to enable a better future in terms of sustainable lifestyle. The project considers questions such as:

  • What is the trade-off between food system sustainability and resilience in certain food categories?
  • Why are some businesses or urban food systems are more resilient (for example, to COVID) than others?
  • How does the food industry innovate towards environmental and social sustainability?

SIRIUS is funded by ESRC under the JPI-UE Sustainable and Liveable Cities and Urban Areas.

Rurban Revolution is an inter-disciplinary project focused on the transformative potential of urban greening. Can we transform UK food production by radically upscaling fruit and vegetable growing in our towns and cities, and would urban agriculture make us, and our environment healthier?

The project includes researchers in Lancaster University's Centre for Global Eco-innovation. It brings together expertise across nutrition and psychology, crop and food sciences, ecosystems and climate change and political and social sciences to build an evidence base on the potential for transforming our food system in a sustainable and resilient way, thereby contributing to healthier lifestyles.

Rurban Revolution is funded by the Global Food Security Programme with support from BBSRC, ESRC, NERC and The Scottish Government.

Dr Kostas Selviaridis is researching the role of public procurement in fostering environmental sustainability and resilience in food supply chains. He has contributed to a Lancaster Environment Centre-led research project focussing on how public sector contracting can be leveraged to create a better food system – one that supports local food economies, reduces environmental impact and promotes healthy diets.

Tab Content: Ocean Stewardship

Centre Director Professor Jan Bebbington is working with Stockholm Resilience Centre on the SeaBOS project.

The collaboration seeks to identify and work in partnership with ‘keystone actors’ in the seafood industry. A keystone actor is an organisation that is both ecologically and economically significant. The theory of change that is being employed is that if large companies who are motivated to achieve a step change in sustainability performance work in a scientifically supported manner to change their impacts and activities, then the industry setting will change as a result of their leadership. The Stockholm Resilience Centre, who lead the project, have developed a unique interaction with ten of the world's largest seafood companies to realise this ambition: the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship initiative. The research team working alongside this initiative are undertaking two forms of investigation:

  • Science for SeaBOS: synthesising existing knowledge and developing new insights into ocean stewardship in order to support SeaBOS ambitions;
  • Science of SeaBOS: studying the initiative as it progresses to understand how business changes in response to stewardship ambitions and within a science-business partnership.

There is more information on the keystone actor approach created by the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

The work developing the keystone actors concept is primarily funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the Beijer Foundation, the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, and the Erling-Persson Family Foundation.

At the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon in June 2022, the SeaBOS cohort of companies published their first progress report that reflects on the past five years of their activities.

Watch a video about our Ocean Stewardship research

Tab Content: Waste and the circular economy

Dr Alison Stowell leads and participates in research projects on complex wastes and the circular economy.

Plastic Packaging in People’s Lives (PPiPL) is a three-year interdisciplinary research project engaged by the Centre for Consumption Insights, in collaboration with the Pentland Centre and Material Science Institute. Dr Stowell co-leads the project, designed to fundamentally shift behaviours around food plastic packaging. Focusing on how plastic packaging is embedded in consumers' lives, the project takes a holistic examination of the packaging circular supply chain to close the attitude behaviours gap in consumer approaches to plastic use and waste.

Dr Charlotte Hadley, whose research interests lie in the dynamics of social life within the context of sustainability, and Dr Clare Mumford, whose research focuses broadly upon the subjective experience of work and work relations, in this case in relation to employment in waste management and plastics recycling, are also researchers for the PPiPL project.

PPiPL is funded by UKRI NERC Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Marta Ferri researches plastics and the circular economy; exploring how meta-organisations respond to the plastic crisis through the promotion of circular solutions.

The project is funded by ESRC and LUMS Maintenance Grant.

Visiting Researcher Dr Lucy Wishart is interested in governance of waste within sustainability debates, and is currently involved in projects investigating conceptualisations of reuse in the circular economy; waste management SMEs and their role in Scotland’s Circular Economy policy arena; and teaching and learning practices related to the Circular Economy in responsible management education.

Pentland Centre researchers engage in research surrounding waste electricals. Collaborations include research with Anthesis, REPIC and Valpak to develop a robust inventory of the different routes electricals and waste electricals flow through the UK economy. Work with REPIC gathers insights into models and methodologies for electrical and electronic equipment and waste electrical and electronic equipment forecasting models. In collaboration with Dr John Hardy we are researching organic electronics and the accompanying shift from existing industry that utilises materials composed predominately of inorganic materials.

LU ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, Material Focus, REPIC Ltd funded this research.

Our researchers have ongoing collaborations with Footprints Africa and Lancaster Low Carbon Innovation Forum, Nankai University and 2degrees (on their global digital platform Manufacture 2030, where they bring together businesses, brands and their manufacturing suppliers to accelerate the transition to sustainable manufacturing).