Launch of a pioneering institute for sustainable communities

Professor Matt Hannon and Dr Jennifer Roberts

A new institute which puts communities at the heart of the transition to a sustainable future has been launched.

The Strathclyde Institute for Sustainable Communities (SISC) – believed to be the first of its kind in the UK – is a centre of research excellence which will examine the role communities could play in sustainability.

The institute, which involves Strathclyde Business School and the Engineering faculty at the University of Strathclyde, highlights the potentially pivotal role communities can play in the transition to sustainability.

Significant change

This will involve significant change for communities, impacting upon their built environment, transportation networks, energy systems, food supply chains and land use practices. Communities can also stimulate or resist these transitions, through community-led ownership, activism, education, and governance.

Despite their central importance to sustainable development, many countries like the UK operate a centralised, market-led approach to sustainability that has pushed community-led solutions to the fringes. As a result, citizen involvement has been inconsistent, with little coordination or oversight amongst different initiatives.

Professor Matt Hannon, Director of SISC, said:

Communities are on the frontline of the transition to sustainability and are critical to its success.

For ‘whole system’ sustainability transitions to be realised, communities must be able to envision a sustainable future where they feel represented, empowered, and enriched. New approaches to decision and the co-creation of wealth are needed to fully harness the energies of communities.

Economic inequality

He says there is a growing danger that Scotland and the UK will miss their net-zero and sustainability targets, while crises like economic inequality and public health continue to deepen and added: “The status quo does not appear fit to realise a just transition towards sustainable development.

“SISC will form a centre for inter-disciplinary research excellence that explores innovative place-based and community-led solutions for sustainability across Scotland and beyond.”

Global leader

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Strathclyde, said that the new institute exemplifies the University’s commitment to being a global leader on sustainability research. He added:

 At Strathclyde we are committed to helping to achieve a sustainable future, with a focus not only on markets, policies, and technologies, but also on citizens and communities.

“By supporting communities to work together with the private, public and third sectors, this new institute will help to build a greener and more equitable future for Scotland, Europe, and the rest of the world. The new Centre represents how taking a ‘whole systems’ approach leads to more inclusive solutions to achieve greater levels of sustainability by considering multiple aspects across policy, technology, economics and the behaviours of society.”

Fair future

Dr Jen Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Strathclyde, and SISC Deputy Director, said: “SISC puts a spotlight on the important roles and experiences of communities at different scales and offers a broader understanding of how to support delivery of a sustainable and fair future.

“By bringing together insights across disciplines and topics, the ambition is to support a connected research community that will accelerate research, knowledge exchange and innovation.”