ISF celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017 by doing what it does best: creating change and looking towards the future, through transdisciplinary, futures-focused, collaborative research.
We began the year with the launch of Transdisciplinary Research and Practice for Sustainability Outcomes – a publication spearheaded by Dr. Dena Fam, Prof. Chris Riedy and Prof. Cynthia Mitchell, that examines the role of transdisciplinarity in resolving complex sustainability problems.
Our celebration of two decades creating change was a chance for reflection that also offered the opportunity to look to the future with the launch of ISF’s 2017-2020 Strategy. It focuses on scaling up our capacity for developing impact, building new partnerships and leading processes of transformation, mapping closely to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to ensure that ISF’s mission to create change is supported by the partnerships we develop.
2017 marked the culmination of the Wealth from Waste research cluster; a three year, $9m research program led by ISF in collaboration with Monash University, the University of Queensland, Swinburne University of Technology, Yale University and CSIRO. The cluster identified viable options to “mine” above ground resources – the metals contained in discarded products and consumer goods – and developed new business models which fully utilise circular economy principles.
The difficulty of housing an aging population in the face of rising housing costs and increasing urban sprawl is a major challenge across Australia. Our recent research into the viability of co-housing developments for seniors tested a number of models that seek to ensure older people can maintain independent, socially fulfilling lives at a reasonable cost.
ISF was in the thick of the public energy debate during 2017. Research into alternative solutions to extending the lifespan of Liddell Power Station, and the viability of energy storage solutions within an electricity grid powered by renewables, supported with evidence our vision of a clean, equitable, accessible energy future.
We were also pleased to welcome Audrey Zibelman, CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator to UTS’s flagship lecture series UTSpeaks, and to support the Dr Gill Owen Memorial Prize, commemorating the work of the internationally-recognised energy efficiency and social equity researcher.
Ensuring safe access to safe drinking water and sanitation is one of ISF’s primary goals in supporting the fulfilment of the SDGs. Our partnerships with organisations such as WaterAid and End Water Poverty led to the develop of targeted communication materials about the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation.
In 2018, ISF will continue to implement our 2017-2020 Strategy with globally relevant projects, carried out in partnership to create change towards sustainable futures.
The year at a glance
We're passionate about maximising the impact of our research, by contributing to knowledge and discourse within academia, policy and the public realm.
In 2017, ISF researchers appeared in 245 stories and interviews on media outlets, both nationally and internationally. These outlets range from national outlets such as the Sydney Morning Herald, to local community newspapers - showing ISF's ability to enact change on multiple scales.
ISF's commitment to contributing knowledge also helped shape Think: Sustainability - one of the suite of 2SER's international award-winning "Think:" series, transforming UTS's sustainability research into informative, entertaining programming. Topics discussed on ISF-led episodes of Think Sustainability include phosphorus shortages, climate change's impact on agriculture, meat-free diets, use cases for battery storage systems, and the untapped potential of cohousing.
Additionally, ISF researchers lead the public debate through regular contributions to The Conversation - one of Australia's largest independent news sites.
Three of ISF's articles published on The Conversation, investigating the issues of waste generation, the impact of disaster on vegetation supplies, and the role companies play in stewardship, rank among the most read articles by UTS academics published on The Conversation.
UTSpeaks – Australia’s New Energy Ecosystem
Transitioning Australia’s energy ecosystem to a renewable-powered ecosystem provides exciting opportunities and significant challenges for policymakers, energy providers and consumers. AEMO’s Audrey Zibelman was joined by ISF’s Dr Sven Teske and Chris Dunstan to discuss the path to a clean, fair and resilient ecosystem at UTS’s flagship discussion forum.
20th Anniversary Launch
ISF celebrated its 20th anniversary with the launch of Transdisciplinary Research and Practice for Sustainability Outcomes – an exceptional new book published by Routledge that brings together the latest thinking on transdisciplinarity. Additionally, Director Stuart White launched the ISF Strategy 2017-2020, sharing ISF’s vision for scaling research impact and developing change-creating partnerships over the next four years.
The Anthropocene Paradox with Will Steffen
One of Australia’s most prominent Earth System scientists, Professor Will Steffen, joined ISF’s Cynthia Mitchell and other leading thinkers to discuss the Anthropocene – an implementation of complex systems thinking principles, aiming to understand the scope of humanity’s impact on Earth’s geology, climate and ecosystems.
The Exciting Future of Customer Service Innovation
Dr Michelle Zeibots joined the NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, The Hon. Andrew Constance and major stakeholders from Sydney Trains, to explore sensor technology, passenger response systems and other forms of technologies that are viable in improving the experience of commuters within Sydney’s public transit systems.
EnergyLab Expert Talk Series
A series of ISF Expert Talks, held at EnergyLab’s offices in Blackfriars, addressed issues including the potential of hydrogen exports, innovative photovoltaic technologies, emerging business opportunities and the histories of energy innovation, led by ISF researchers Dr Geoff James, Dani Alexander, Professor Stuart White and more.
Master Class: Systems Thinking for Impact on Sustainable Development
Held in partnership with the Australian Council for International Development, this masterclass aimed to inform development practitioners about the application of systems thinking principles within a development environment, which allow for the development of new opportunities to address underlying causes of social, environmental and economic injustice.
New space: where the change happens
ISF lives and breathes sustainability. We’re proud to be home to an increasing number of sustainability researchers and practitioners from a diverse range of disciplines.
This recent growth means that we need new space to breathe, too.
In December 2017 ISF moved into a new office space one floor below on level 10 of UTS’s Building 10 (235 Jones St, Ultimo).
While we haven’t moved far, the new Activity-Based Working (ABW) style office affords a transformative way of working.
ISF’s researchers are highly mobile – leading, collaborating and learning with stakeholders in all manners of ways and spaces. Our new office reflects this flexibility – collaborative zones encourage the creative cross-pollination of ideas that reinforce ISF’s transdisciplinary approach, while quieter areas allow for the focused and rigorous work we’re known for.
While the new office space is significantly improved in terms of aesthetics, we are committed to maintaining the sustainability of our new space.
ISF’s new office is currently in the process of achieving a 6 Green Star rating through vastly reducing paper use, installing furniture built from reused and recycled materials, significantly improving access to natural light, and reducing water and energy use.
New brand: creativity meets technology
Authentic, creative, energetic, open and entrepreneurial.
If UTS were a person, that’s how you might describe them.
In May 2017, the way the university presents itself to the world and reflects these personality traits was re-energised with the roll out of a visual identity refresh following extensive research into what the university community think UTS stands for.
The move to more consistent, unified way of representing UTS means that ISF has lost its distinctive fuschia pink branding and iconic venn diagram logo device. However the brand refresh brings us an exciting opportunity to showcase our increasingly influential work with a sophisticated and contemporary look, and better profile our important and long-standing links to UTS.
The new visual identity includes a new colour palette (featuring red, blue, black, and white), an updated logo, and updated visual imagery that draws from provided data sets. Utilising technology developed in collaboration with UTS engineering, IT and design academics, ISF has begun to use the new brand to visualise data sets, such as mapping analysis of our work to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Our postgraduate program
Verena Streitferdt (2017)
Optimising energy efficiency finance in emerging economies in Southeast Asia
Dr Verena Streitferdt’s PhD thesis utilised Thailand as a case study for investigating the relationship between public and private sector efforts to optimise energy efficiency finance initiatives. Verena’s thesis found that within an emerging country context, energy efficiency finance initiatives will be reliant on long-term public sector support, due to an absence of guidance and cross-coordination across relevant ministries, and the prioritisation of renewable energy initiatives.
Sarina Kilham (2017)
Farmers, Autonomy and Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Biodiesel production in Brazil and Timor-Leste
Dr Sarina Kilham’s PhD thesis examined the role of smallholder farmer’s participation in biodiesel schemes and the incorporation of biodiesel schemes into rural livelihoods. The thesis found that by viewing the participation of farmers through the notion of negotiating for autonomy, it can be seen that farmers actively manage their participation in biodiesel schemes. Understanding the way in which farmers participate can therefore significantly improve the implementation of biodiesel policy in Brazil.
Rachel Watson (2017)
The role of local recycled water systems for sustainable urban water servicing
Dr Rachel Watson’s thesis analysed the role of recycled water systems in Sydney in order to guide more robust investment decisions for local recycled water, and to assist regulators with the revision of institutional structures in order to support future resilience of the Sydney water industry. The thesis demonstrates that the interactions between impacts and contexts such as environmental, social and regulatory settings is critical to explain the location of investments and the role recycled water services can play in urban water servicing.
The 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition requires HDR students to explain their research in three minutes with one slide of information, and no other props. ISF’s Jeremy Kohlitz won the People’s Choice award at the UTS 3MT finals for explaining the need to bridge disciplinary divides in addressing climate change appropriately, especially in relation to his research into the sustainability of rural water services in Vanuatu.
Driven by the rise of renewables, the shift to decentralised energy and smarter consumption, Australia’s energy system is experiencing its most foundational transition in half a century.
ISF’s research shows how Australia can innovate and move “beyond coal”, by combining new methods of generation with more effective use of current energy sources, and by taking advantage of emerging energy storage technologies to improve reliability and security.
Australia is undergoing an energy transformation that promises to intensify over the coming decades. This transformation involves a greater reliance on renewable energy in response to climate mitigation policies, relocation of where energy is generated and distributed as a result of changing economics of energy costs and technological developments, and shifts in how and when energy is consumed with the advent of ‘prosumers’.
How do we best manage the transition away from coal-fired power, ensuring the continuing reliability of Australia’s energy systems in the face of inclement weather and increasing demand? And how can we minimise the financial and environmental impacts of implementing smarter, cleaner energy solutions?
In the face of the Commonwealth Government’s suggestion to respond to potential energy shortages in the Hunter Valley by extending the lifespan of Liddell Power Station, ISF was commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation to investigate viable alternative solutions.
This consisted of modelling three scenarios – the Government’s scenario of extending Liddell’s lifespan which uses primarily coal power, AGL’s proposal of primarily using gas power with some use of wind power, batteries and demand management, and a Clean Energy proposal primarily using energy efficiency measures and wind energy generation.
ISF’s research showed that the Clean Energy proposal would not only phase out the 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide produced by extending Liddell’s lifespan, but it would also save a minimum of $1billion in installation, generation and maintenance costs.
ISF Research Director, Chris Dunstan, said using clean energy solutions to address the closure of Liddell could set a powerful precedent for the longer-term energy transition across the rest of the country.
“Now is the time to prepare for this transition. The good news is that by replacing this capacity with smarter, clean energy options we can reduce costs, reduce emissions, create jobs and maintain reliable electricity supply.”
However, the means of energy generation is not the only aspect of Australia’s energy future that requires consideration.
In 2017 ISF was also commissioned by the Australian Council for Learned Academies to better understand the role energy storage can play in the transformation of Australia’s energy systems.
Energy storage is critical because it provides a vital link between energy production and consumption, and allows for distributed and variable renewable energy generation such as solar and wind to be harnessed more easily.
Separate research teams applied custom methodologies to examine two key areas:
- model the potential requirement for uptake of energy storage to ensure Australia’s energy security, and
- evaluate the cradle-to-grave environmental and safety benefits and risks presented by uptake of energy storage.
Our research showed that the battery storage technologies required to maintain power adequacy (is there enough energy at any given hour) and energy security (can the system withstand sudden changes) presently and readily exist, and can be carefully implemented to ensure a cost-effective system outcome.
The ACOLA studies also importantly identified that the deployment of certain storage technologies must be carefully planned to mitigate numerous environmental and social impacts.
Australia’s population is increasingly aging, throwing up major challenges for the provision of aged care services.
Older people in alternative forms of living such as co-housing could lead more independent and socially fulfilling lives in their communities at an affordable cost, ISF research found in 2017.
For aging populations, housing affordability, accessibility and stability are issues that present significant challenges.
We know seniors often have great knowledge and experience to contribute to society, but these contributions can often by undermined by financial insecurity, poor health, isolation and disability. Current assisted housing facilities are often perceived as inadequate for resolving these problems and fulfilling the current needs of residents.
New models are needed to address these issues. Cohousing, a model popular in the US and northern Europe, may be one solution to these issues.
Cohousing involves combining private and communal spaces within a community living environment. It takes advantage of the benefits of communal living, such as increased social interactions, while maintaining privacy and autonomy.
In contrast to typical assisted care facilities, cohousing communities are actively designed by residents to fit their desired requirements, encouraging community interaction through shared facilities and enhanced pedestrian flows.
ISF researchers spent a year exploring alternative living options for older people, talking to housing and health policy-makers, co-housing developers and older people themselves.
The research was conducted in partnership with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage’s Sustainability Advantage Program, who provided funding support along with the NSW Government’s Liveable Communities Grants Program.
Professor Chris Riedy, who led the research, said co-housing offers an attractive housing option but few are aware of its potential – “most people still think of hippies, communes or share houses”.
“There are fantastic modern co-housing options that are perfect for the mainstream, with great design and a balance between privacy and community.”
Professor Riedy and the research team identified three appropriate co-housing options:
- Deliberative development, where future residents participate in the design of a new multi-unit building that they will eventually live in. This approach has been pioneered by Nightingale Housing in Melbourne, and is currently spreading to other states;
- Co-operative tenancy, where residents form a housing co-operative to manage their tenancy of a building. Common Equity is the leading proponent of this model in NSW, with 39 housing co-operatives established;
- Small-scale cohousing, where an existing single dwelling is renovated to accommodate one to three additional dwellings.
NSW Minister for Ageing Tanya Davies commended the approach to innovative solutions to affordable housing for older people.
“One of the most important ways to ensure the quality of life of older people around NSW is to increase access to housing that is affordable, appropriate to their physical needs, and which allows them to stay connected to their community.”
Professor Riedy said there was much to be done in myth-busting and in raising awareness of co-housing among older people.
“Very few older people in the focus groups had heard of co-housing, though guessed it involved sharing living space. ‘A nice idea but not for me’ was a common response,” he said.
“If we are going to realise the housing affordability and sustainability benefits of co-housing, there is an urgent need to fund and promote demonstration projects to raise awareness of co-housing options."
In the circular economy of the future, wealth will be created by designing for circular flows of materials and intended re-use of products.
Supply chains will be designed to avoid waste and maintain the usefulness of resources across product-use cycles.
The Wealth from Waste research cluster positions Australia for leadership in a circular economy.
Metals are a vital component of modern society, but for a multitude of reasons, we only recycle a small number of them. As the production of metals has significant environmental and social impacts, developing systems to improve the circularity of these materials is essential to ensuring the continuing prosperity of Australia’s economy.
The Wealth from Waste research cluster is an international collaboration led by ISF, collaborating with researchers from CSIRO, UTS, Monash University, the University of Queensland, Swinburne University of Technology and Yale University. It charts a pathway to enable technologies and practices for secondary resource markets and to increase the chances of prosperity in a future circular economy.
With comparatively high levels of production and export for metals, and comparatively low local demand, Australia finds itself in a unique position to benefit from a global shift towards a circular economy model. Australia not only has abundant supplies of common metals such as aluminum and cooper, but also significant supplies of unique metals such as lithium.
This three-year, $9 million research project identifies viable options to “mine” above-ground resources, which are commonly found in discarded consumer goods. It maps the resource base for urban mines, captures possible technological and business approaches that support the transition to a circular economy, and identifies the key policy levers required to support a circular economy for metals.
Key outcomes from the research cluster included identifying the significant opportunity within the metals sector to improve processing of metal scrap to 50 percent, creating $AU6billion of wealth.
However, the more significant value may come from the potential for Australia to export its circular economy knowledge to allow for the development of international circular economies, and the ability for innovation to facilitate a national approach to a circular economy which creates jobs, responds to environmental and resource constraints, and integrates with the digital economy.
While metals that are currently not recycled could technically be recycled, high costs of collection that result from Australia’s comparatively limited market size, geographical limitations, and the absence of adequate recycling infrastructure undermine the economic drivers to recycle.
Social practices such as the hoarding of products within households, continuing preferences for new models of similar products and inconsistent policies across jurisdictions also position waste as an output to be managed as opposed to a resource to be utilised effectively.
In contrast, developing the capabilities to access resources within a circular economy model can allow Australia to apply these technology and service solutions to larger stocks of secondary resources globally, benefiting from the viability of circular economy models outside of Australia. Opportunities also exist to rethink ideas of how Australian society views waste.
Current methods for managing waste, involving large-scale storage of what is perceived as a necessary expense, are costly, inefficient and dangerous. The development of mining waste reprocessing operations can deliver additional revenue, and drastically reduce the quantity and volatility of mining waste products.
No two challenges are the same
Each challenge brings dynamic and changing political, socio-cultural, organisational and unique individual factors to consider. That’s why, at the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), our approach is highly bespoke.
ISF is an interdisciplinary research and consulting organisation at UTS, with a core focus in helping governments, organisations, businesses and communities achieve sustainable development. We utilise a unique combination of skills and perspectives to offer long term sustainable solutions.
ISF have been setting global benchmarks since 1997, producing research which is ethical, independent, rigorous, and above all, solutions-focused. Our clients are empowered with knowledge and tools, so they can deliver on a sustainable future.
Whatever change you wish to see in the world, working with us means creating something that will last.