“Economic focus, policy vocation, sustainability goal”
Our internationally-leading research group examines the implications of economic theories, activities and policies for social and environmental sustainability. We also use economic principles and tools as a means to study problems in sustainability. Our strength lies in the development of interdisciplinary empirical approaches for analysing issues where socio-economic activities intersect and interact with environmental resource use and the provision of ecosystem services.
Research areas include
- Ecological macroeconomics: We explore the policies and changes needed to achieve a prosperous post-growth economy. These include strategies to limit resource use, stabilise population, reduce inequality, fix the financial system, create meaningful jobs, and move beyond GDP as a measure of progress. Although our work falls in the broad area of sustainable prosperity, we are particularly interested in degrowth and steady-state economy approaches.
- Macro-economic modelling of environmental resource use: We analyse the macroeconomic implications of resource use (including energy, materials, water, and emissions) from key socio-economic activities across different spatial scales (from individuals and communities to global regions). We use a variety of methods including environmentally-extended input-output analysis, exergy economics, macro-econometric models, and estimations of the potential for innovation and resource efficiency improvements.
- Socio-economic benefits of ecosystem services: To manage ecosystems and biodiversity sustainably we need to understand the multiple benefits that people gain from the natural world. Our expertise lies in stated preference and deliberative valuation, payments for ecosystem services (PES) schemes, interdisciplinary cost-benefit analysis, and a suite of less traditional, non-monetary metrics of value. Ecosystem functions and processes underpin the delivery of benefits, but are changing rapidly in response to natural and anthropogenic pressures.
- Resource use and well-being: We investigate the dependency and potential decoupling of human well-being and development from biophysical resource use and environmental impacts. In this research, we do not equate well-being with income or wealth, but consider broader definitions of well-being, both objective (human development, capabilities and needs approaches) and subjective (happiness, life satisfaction). Economic activity can be assessed in terms of its positive contribution to need satisfaction and well-being, or negative contribution in terms of inequality and environmental impacts.
- The role of institutions in the governance of social-ecological systems: Governance institutions shape the alternatives that actors face as well as their incentives; this configures the pathways towards desirable environmental outcomes such as the low-carbon economy and the conservation of biodiversity. Governance institutions are often of multi-level nature and there are both positive and negative interactions between them. We employ advanced institutional analysis to examine how complex interactions between governance institutions and governance challenges translate to socio-ecological outcomes, and what the implications are for improved institutional designs.
- Sustainable cities: Our research focuses on how to make cities more live-able, smarter, climate robust, energy efficient, connected and low-carbon to enhance the prosperity and well-being of residents. We carry out interdisciplinary research and education to increase our knowledge, improve and develop new methods, and find solutions which help cities tackle key challenges, such as climate mitigation and adaptation, and environmental change. We explore approaches, such as green infrastructure and urban energy systems, at the city-scale both nationally within the UK and internationally.
As part of the Sustainability Research Institute, we coordinate and supervise students on the Ecological Economics MSc.
We have opportunities for prospective PhD students. Find out more.
If you would like to discuss an area of research in more detail please contact the Research Group Lead: Dr Daniel O'Neill.