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Sustainability: the big issue

Aled Jones

I came to ARU to start the Global Sustainability Institute (GSI), a research hub that’s dedicated to developing practical solutions for the large-scale challenges our world is facing. It was a great opportunity to bring together my experience in both academia (previously the Deputy Director of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership), and enterprise – gained from setting up start-ups (including interactive toys, biometrics and location services, which are still going strong!). When this kind of opportunity knocks, you have to answer and I am very glad I did.

Six years in and the GSI has become something quite special. We’re an integrated unit that sits within ARU’s Faculty of Science and Technology, bringing together some of the university’s best minds amongst business, government and charities. There are 40 of us in total and a third of those are doctoral students, which creates an astonishing and dynamic knowledge exchange. The students get a hands-on approach to their learning, working alongside the brightest in their field, and in return those experienced hands are surrounded by new thinking and new ideas.

It’s an inspiring environment to be a part of and is already showing results. One area we’re looking at is global resources and risk, at where food, energy and water actually are in the world, who has access to them and what trends in those areas mean for stability in society – from farm level right up to national government. The sheer volume of output we’ve generated on such subjects – books, talks, papers – is attracting a great deal of attention.

Of course it’s not all about recognition for your academic work, it’s how your research is picked up and actually used. Fortunately that’s one of our strongest areas. We know that the research we’re undertaking is being read by decision makers at the highest level and that it’s influencing key decisions. The institute itself has already been recognised for its impact as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

For instance we’re currently advising the European Commission on how social science should be applied to energy research, we’ve set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group on ‘limits to growth’, and we’ve been invited to join numerous government and business advisory groups. Safe to say, through our work, the institute, and our students, have a seat at the table, and now we’re working on staying there.

Professor Aled Jones is Director of the Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) at Anglia Ruskin University.