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Study demonstrates how academia and business can ensure sustainability of resources

Lenny Koh

Collaboration between business and academia can identify the most urgent research priorities to ensure the sustainability of food, energy, water and the environment, according to a new study.

Companies both depend upon and impact the environment, yet their perspectives are often overlooked by the research community which lacks access to business thinking. Equally, businesses find it challenging to engage with the academic community, and to define researchable questions that would benefit from more detailed analysis.

This study, convened by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), engaged over 250 people, including Prof Lenny Koh from the Management School and companies such as Asda, EDF Energy, HSBC and Nestlé, to co-produce research priorities that are scientifically feasible and also include outputs that can be practically implemented by the business community.

The project is part of the work of the Nexus Network, a network of researchers and stakeholders coordinated by CICL, the University of Sheffield, the University of Sussex, the University of East Anglia and the University of Exeter, and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Prof Koh, co-author of the study and director of the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre at the University of Sheffield, said: “This collaborative research shapes interesting research priorities using the nexus approach on food, energy, water and the environment. The co-design by leading academics and industry provides strategic directions to help address the global natural resources sustainability challenges. With the backing from ESRC, the nexus approach gives a platform to consider these challenges in an integrated way.”

“It links to the mission of the Sheffield University Management School, which integrates sustainability throughout its vibrant environments on research, learning and wider impact. Our involvement in Nexus2020 research is an excellent example demonstrating our sustainability leadership in this field.”

Several themes emerged from this study, highlighting the issues that require more research and better engagement between the academic and business communities. These included research around development of pragmatic yet credible tools that allow businesses to incorporate the interactions between food, energy and water demands in a changing environment into their decision-making; the role of social considerations and livelihoods in business decision-making in relation to sustainable management; identification of the most effective levers for behaviour change; and understanding incentives or circumstances that allow individuals and businesses to take a leadership stance on these issues.

It will be the role of multi-disciplinary groups of researchers and business practitioners to devise the projects that will deliver the solutions to these pressing issues around food, energy, water and the environment.

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