Sustainability with Professor Adrian Friday

Professor Adrian Friday

In the lead-up to COP27 in November, and with the imperative climate emergency, we thought we would speak to some of the talented minds at Lancaster about their areas of research within sustainability, and what they would like to see focused on in this wide-reaching topic.

This week, we have spoken to Professor Adrian Friday, Professor of Computing & Sustainability.

Can you give me a brief overview of your role at the University?

I’m a Professor of Computer Science. My title is Professor of Computing & Sustainability. I’m interested in the role of digital systems, data and ICT in promoting sustainability. I’m also interested in the growing global environmental impacts of ICT and computing technologies, such as data centres, AI, IoT and blockchain.

What areas of sustainability are you currently focused on in your work?

I’ve just finished a project looking at last-mile logistics and how digital systems can be designed to promote fairer and more sustainable work. My current project is a collaboration with statistics and social-geography researchers looking at finding energy efficiency savings from a wealth of data that organisations gather with their energy meters and building information systems.

What has been your biggest achievement this year?

Our report reviewing the climate impact of information technology has had quite a wide impact, including informing a Royal Society report and leading to several interesting conversations with policymakers (DCMS), standards bodies (ITU-T), and even some guest lectures and talks. Including, one I did remotely to a masters class in Paris from the stairs in Herbarium in Lancaster!

What do you think is the biggest challenge in the work that you do?

The biggest challenge is working to have impact given that computer science contributes to a much wider and more wicked interdisciplinary problem. Not least this goes against the way most organisations, funding bodies, journals and reviewers expect! An interdisciplinary and whole systems approach is essential for tackling wicked problems, such as climate change.

Did you always want to work in the area of sustainability?

Originally, my work focused on mobile and ubiquitous computing, which included how to exploit the birth of mobile phones and situated sensors and displays (computing was coming off the desktop, and into our lives). This included the public display network around our campus, which originated from our groups’ research and continues to support that today. But around 15 years ago, I was getting dissatisfied that this technology was focusing on visions of productivity and convenience, rather than helping us address pressing societal challenges. I was also getting increasingly concerned about sustainability and climate change. Working with Computing for the Future of the Planet researchers at Cambridge while on sabbatical, challenged me to think more about what the role of computing is in this area, and this sparked a new and exciting collaboration studying energy use in the home and the social practices that drive it. This was the rebirth of my research career.

COP27 is in November 2022 in Egypt, what area(s) would you like to see being talked about more in order to help the climate emergency?

I’d like to see a major acceleration in the ambition of all nations in addressing climate change. There’s a huge justice issue of how the nations whose industrial growth helped cause the problem and their responsibility to developing nations to ensure we don’t lock in more growth and climate impact than we can afford. I’d like to see more on who we fund and organise this globally and locally, to avoid local solutions whose net effect is worse globally and to avoid locking in more carbon-intensive pathways. There’s not enough discussion on what we are currently doing (business as usual) that has to fundamentally change/reduce or even be stopped to achieve our climate ambitions.

What do you think is the role of Universities in sustainability and addressing the climate emergency?

I think we have a responsibility to take a lead in the creation and sharing of knowledge and pathways for sustainability. In an age of misinformation, we can use our credibility, objectivity and skills to help shape and critique the evidence, and bring parties together. We also have a critical role in sustainability education, so everyone who works or studies here understands what they need to do to be more sustainable and promote sustainability – not just individually, but especially in their future leadership and wider roles.

To find out more about Lancaster University's work in this area, explore our sustainability pages.

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