Sustainability Research Institute

Economics and Policy for Sustainability

“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 current issues where socio-economic activities intersect and interact with environmental resource use and the provision of ecosystem services.

As part of SRI, we coordinate the MSc Ecological Economics programme. See our bulletin board for upcoming events, presentations, and news. Our main research areas are given below. The current Research Group Leader is Dr Dan O'Neill.

View the Open Letter on Fossil Fuel Divestment written by members of the research group, and signed by over 250 university staff and PhD researchers.

Ecological macroeconomics

We explore the policies and changes that would be needed to achieve a prosperous non-growing 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 resource requirements, in terms of energy, materials, water and emissions, of key socio-economic activities across different spatial scales (from individuals and communities to global regions), using a variety of models and methods. These methods include environmentally-extended input-output analysis, alternative metrics of energy and resource use, macro-models of resource requirements of consumption and trade, 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. Our work also aims to quantify how such changes affect human well-being.

Resource use and well-being

We investigate the dependency and potential decoupling of international 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 thus 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, thus importantly configuring 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, which makes environmental governance a complex phenomenon to examine. We employ advanced institutional analysis to examine how complex interactions between governance institutions and their match with the governance challenges at hand 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 liveable, 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.