We have been involved in a large number of current and completed research and scholarship projects as well doctoral studentships.

Household Ecological Footprint

This project analysed data on the Ecological Footprint (EF) from over 1,000 OU student households which was assessed using Best Foot Forward’s EcoCal software to measure their household’s transport, energy, water, consumption, housing land-use and waste footprint. The analysis showed that the EF of an average OU household (whose demographics are similar to UK households in general) needed to be reduced by two-thirds to be globally sustainable. The research found that large, urban households achieved a lower EF than small, rural household’s carbon impacts and reported on households’ ideas for achieving transitions to sustainable lifestyles. This led to the development of several interactive multi-media on-line eco-quizzes ‘Postcards from the Future’ www.open2.net/survey/coast/postcards_interactive_embedded.html’ to accompany the widely viewed BBC/OU Coast series in 2005, and was completed by 9000 people. A second eco-quiz for schools was developed on the soils education website www.soil-net.com, funded by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Adoption, use and performance of renewable heating technologies

The adoption of low carbon renewable technologies is part of the UK strategy to reduce carbon emissions from buildings and meet climate change challenges. The OU undertook a research programme to examine the factors influencing consumer adoption, non-adoption and use of these technologies. Projects included the People-centred Ecodesign, Household adoption and use of micro-generation heat and Heat Pump Field Trial.

People-centred Ecodesign

This led to the 2005-7 ‘People-centred Ecodesign’ project in collaboration with, the National Energy Foundation, the Energy Saving Trust, Milton Keynes Energy Agency and the BBC. This research examined factors influencing consumer adoption and non-adoption of renewable energy systems, including solar thermal, biomass heating, heat pump, photovoltaic and micro-wind turbine systems. This involved analysis of over 100 in-depth interviews and nearly online survey 400 responses. Barriers of cost, incompatibility with buildings and visual impact were identified, together with the key drivers of achieving financial savings and addressing environmental concerns. The findings led to proposed design and policy changes to improve take-up and efficient use and helped to provide evidence to the 2007 Parliamentary Committee Enquiry on Climate Change.

Household adoption and use of micro-generation heat

In 2007-8 the OU collaborated with the Energy Saving Trust with the ‘Household adoption and use of micro-generation heat’ project to conduct the largest survey of over 900 UK householders who had seriously considered purchasing or had actually installed a microgeneration heating system, including solar thermal, heat pump and biomass heating systems. The research examined UK consumers experiences of adopting and using these technologies and identified their preferred policies and design improvements to increase uptake, including price reductions and subsidies; independent information on the suitability, performance, payback and use of equipment; ‘one-stop’ support from consideration to operation; improved system compatibility with existing properties and heating systems; and more user-friendly and informative controls.

Widely publicised by the EST, the findings were launched at the 2008 Microgeneration Council conference and published in the report YIMBY Generation. Yes in my back yard!, aimed at the public, equipment installers and manufacturers http://oro.open.ac.uk/10828/. Also publicised by the BBC, The Independent and as a feature article in Green Building (2008), the findings provided evidence for the government’s Microgeneration Strategy Progress Report (2008), and were incorporated into The Growth Potential for Microgeneration (2008) major study. Following an invited presentation to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the findings were submitted as part of the government Heat Strategy consultation 2012 on policies for low carbon heating.

Heat Pump Field Trial

The ‘micro-generation heat’ project identified domestic heat pumps as a potential key decarbonising environmental technology. The Energy Saving Trust (EST) established the first large-scale ‘Heat Pump Field Trial’ in the UK 2008-10 to address the lack of independent evaluation. In collaboration with the EST, the OU conducted a major study of user experiences, behaviours and satisfactions with ground and air source heat pump systems installed in nearly 90 dwellings. In addition, a number of user characteristics and behaviours were analysed to identify their relationship to system efficiency, showing that greater user knowledge and understanding of the heat pump and more continuous operation of the system (under automatic control) was significantly related to higher system efficiency. The analysis indicated that many interacting factors affect heat pump efficiency, including building energy efficiency; heat pump system design and installation quality; as well as some characteristics and heating behaviours of private householders and social housing tenants. These factors helped to explain why significantly more higher performing systems were located in private dwellings. The results contributed to the EST (2010) Getting warmer. A field trial of heat pumps http://oro.open.ac.uk/31647/ and EST (2013) The heat is on: heat pump field trials phase 2, http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Organisations/Working-with-Energy-Saving-Trust/The-Foundation/Our-pioneering-research/The-heat-is-on-heat-pump-field-trials. The results were submitted to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s 2012 micro-generation heat strategy consultation, ‘Strategic Framework for Low Carbon Heat in the UK’ that informed the Government report on ‘The Future of Heating policy’ in March 2013.


CADWAGO is a consortium led by the Stockholm Environment Institute that aims to improve water governance by developing a more robust knowledge base and enhancing capacity to adapt to climate change. The three year project brings together 10 partners from Europe, Australasia, and North America with extensive experience of climate change adaptation and water governance issues.


This Jisc funded project, under their Greening ICT programme, examined the transformative impacts of ICTs on HE teaching models and conducted an environmental assessment of the impacts of courses/modules using different models from several Higher Educational Institutions, including Loughborough University, Cranfield University and Oxford University as well as the Open University. We also reanalysed similar data collected some years previously for the Factor 10 Visions project at the OU when the use of ICTs was much less common.

We also developed a sustainability toolkit for UK Higher Education (HE) based on the above data analysis of our findings following an environmental assessment of different HE Teaching Models using ICTs. This toolkit supports lecturers and academic designers with the design of new courses/modules and qualification programmes, and also provides resources to support greater awareness of their likely carbon impacts. The wider aim is to encourage adoption of the toolkit to support institutional transformation in HE.

More details can be found at http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/susteach/ as well as this study unit on The environmental impact of teaching and learning on OpenLearn.

Attitudes to the use of organic waste on land

This research was commissioned and funded by Defra under the Waste and Resources Evidence Programme, contract WR0510 and included project partners from Ipsos MORI; the Organic Resources Agency; and Reading University (2007-09). The purpose of this project was to study attitudes and perceptions towards the spreading of organic waste-derived resources on land. Against a background of a paucity of research it brought together for the first time attitudes of stakeholders from all parts of the organic resources use cycle in an interactive and iterative research process. Processing organic wastes and turning them into reliable resources can benefit the environment and thus help meet sustainability goals.  Capacity to spread treated waste to land will be determined by technology, markets and regulation as well as passive acceptance and active support of these practices.  Understanding the attitudes of the public and the whole chain of stakeholders, from waste producers, to waste processors, to land managers, to food buyers and consumers can inform and establish confidence in policy making and market development. Briefly, it was found that knowledge of attitudes and perceptions is crucial in informing policy alongside technical knowledge in the context of economic and political agendas. Although attitudes will not necessarily drive the policy agenda in isolation, without acknowledgement and attention policy initiatives may stall.

The full peer reviewed project report to Defra is available from the Defra website.

Farmers’ understanding of GM crops within local communities

This was an ESRC funded project within their Science and Society programme (2004-07).

The prospect of the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) crops in the UK has been hugely controversial. At the outset of this study, in 2004, the UK Government was about to decide whether or not to allow commercial production to go ahead, after three years of intensive evidence gathering, including public debates and large-scale on-farm trials (the Farm Scale Evaluations or FSEs). In the event, only one GM crop variety was given the go ahead but the company did not release in to market.

This study investigated an important but neglected aspect of that debate – the view of the farmers, the people who are ultimately responsible for decisions about adopting and managing new technologies such as GM crops. We wanted to know: what did they think about new technologies such as GM crops? If they had taken part in the FSEs, how practical had they found the crop management guidelines they were required to follow? And, in their farming decisions about new technologies, who did they rely on for support and advice, and how might that support be improved? We interviewed farmers with experience of growing GM crops in the FSEs, and a similar group of farmers without that experience. All the farmers were growing commodity crops on a large scale. So what did we find out? In a nutshell, both groups believe GM crops would help their business and the environment, they view GM crops as just another new technology, they learn about new technologies through informal means, local communities do not feature much in their networks of influence, they all are finding it hard to manage the increasing volume of information and advice and all feel there are poor connections between them and the work of scientists and policy makers.

The ESRC Peer-reviewed End of Award Report, RES-151-25-0046 is available at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/ViewAwardPage.aspx?awardnumber=RES-151-25-0046

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Environmental Management and Technology