Interdisciplinary blog


World Environment Day 2013- Messages

June 7, 2013
by Alison Simmance

This year the University of Southampton joined the global community in celebration of World Environment Day (5th June 2013).

Guest speaker Chris Tyas from RSPB stimulated thought and debate on the latest developments of the RSPB Wallasea Island Coastal Project.

The project is a landmark conservation and engineering scheme for the 21st century, on a scale never before attempted in the UK and the largest of its type in Europe. The project will receive 4.5million tonnes of material excavated during the Crossrail operations in London to help shape Europe’s largest man-made nature reserve. The aim of this project is to combat the threats from climate change and coastal flooding by recreating the ancient wetland landscape of mudflats and saltmarsh, lagoons and pasture. The landmark project adopts a true multidisciplinary approach in relation to climate adaptation, coastal conservation and engineering.

An art exhibition, provided by local Year 10 school students, on the World Environment Day Theme Think.Eat.Save was also displayed at the event.

Overall Winner: Sandown Bay Academy; Runner Up: Henry Cort Community College; Best Presentation: Bitterne Park School; Peer-Assessment: Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill. All other exhibits: Carisbrooke College; Hamble Community College; King Richard School; Redbridge Community School; St George Catholic School; The Sholing Technology College; Upper Shirley High School; Woodlands Community College.


Presentation slides now available on Slide Share.

The University of Southampton’s multidisciplinary groups- the Sustainability Science at Southampton (SSS) USRG and Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI)- were delighted to have the opportunity to exhibit the creative work from local secondary school students and to welcome Chris and members of the public to join the university in celebrating this important day.


Stay Connected:

Sustainability Science at Southampton:­ence

Follow us on twitter: @SustainScience

Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute:


Multidisciplinary Research Week 2013- Success

May 7, 2013
by Alison Simmance

The University of Southampton sprang to life during the 17-22nd March when over 1050 attendees joined us for the 3rd annual Multidisciplinary Research Week.

This year’s week long celebration was built on the best cross-disciplinary science and arts from the University of Southampton’s staff and students with a packed programme of talks, hands-on science demonstrations, exhibitions, debates and a film screening. We were also joined by key external speakers who brought insights into policy applications and cutting edge research in relation to our University Strategic Research Groups.

See the full programme here.  The energy and intellectual alchemy of the week certainly inspired ‘ideas worth spreading’ and far exceeded our expectations. Thank you to all our speakers, demonstrators, supporters, volunteers, digital champions, sponsors and attendees for enabling this annual cross-disciplinary event at the University of Southampton to be a huge success.

The week in numbers– see the statistics from MDR Week 2013 below or in the MDRWeek 2013 Final Statistics Flyer.

Blog posts about all our events at #MDRWeek will be coming shortly! Watch this site for news.

Did you miss MDR week 2013?

See all our multimedia outputs online now!





Did you miss TEDxSouthamptonUniversity 2013?


  • 23 events (incl. 2 exhibitions and 1 interactive art session) from 17-22nd March 2013.
  • 1057 actual attendees (approx. 10% external).
  • First TEDx at the University of Southampton- tickets sold out; new website; IBM sponsorship; 15 speakers; >1000 hits so far on YouTube.
  • Prof Mohan Munasinghe– Vice Chair of IPPC/Nobel Prize Winner 2007 (BBC Radio Solent Broadcast & future collaborations).
  • First formal celebration of the World Water Day 2013 (150 attendees).
  • >70 people attended the ‘Litmus Project: Science & Poetry Exhibition’.
  • >120 people attended ‘Question Time: The Brain & Society’, (incl. 40 6th Formers)
  • 15 people created an eco-friendly bag from 60th Anniversary campaign banner material at ‘Be a Green Shopper’.
  • Collaborations: UoS Science & Engineering Festival, WSA, WUN, IBM, Google, Marwell Wildlife, three 6th Form Colleges.

First year that social media was used!


MDR Week 2014- Your Views

We are now already planning next year’s research week and welcome any suggestions for a possible theme on this. If you have an interesting cross-disciplinary project/initiative or idea and/or wish  to get involved in other ways then please contact us:


Full details available at:


Share your experience with us on Twitter #MDRWeek @Multisoton


RSPB Wallasea Island Project- World Environment Day Seminar

May 3, 2013
by Alison Simmance

RSPB Wallasea Island Project: Conservation for the 21st Century

World Environment Day Seminar 2013 by Chris Tyas Wallasea Island Project Manager, RSPB

Wednesday 5 June | 16:00- 18:00pm | Wine & nibbles from 16:00 | The Nuffield Theatre, Building 6, Lecture Theatre A, Highfield Campus

Join us in celebration of World Environment Day with a special afternoon seminar and art exhibition.

All staff, students, local teachers, community groups and the wider public are welcome to attend this free event.


Download and share the event’s poster: RSPB Wallasea Island Project- World Environment Day Poster.

Did you know?

Wallasea Island Wild Coast project is a landmark conservation and engineering scheme for the 21st century, on a scale never before attempted in the UK and the largest of its type in Europe. The project will receive 4.5million tonnes of material excavated during the Crossrail operations in London to help shape Europe’s largest man-made nature reserve. The aim of this project is to combat the threats from climate change and coastal flooding by recreating the ancient wetland landscape of mudflats and saltmarsh, lagoons and pasture.

The landmark project adopts a true multidisciplinary approach which will prove influential in linking Europe’s largest construction project with the continent’s biggest wetland creation scheme.

What’s World Environment Day?

World Environment Day is an annual event that is aimed at being the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. The theme for this year’s World Environment Day celebrations is Think.Eat.Save. Think.Eat.Save is an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages you to reduce your food print.

Event Information:

The event is part of the University of Southampton’s Multidisciplinary Seminar Series and is jointly organised by the Multidisciplinary Sustainability Science at Southampton (SSS) Group and the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI).



Live stream & full details available at:


Share your experience with us @SustainScience #WED2013


Relevant Links:

RSPB website

Wallasea Island Project Leaflet.

Crossrail website

The Environment Agency


ESPA Deltas at UNESCO international workshop on Sustainability Science

April 29, 2013
by Craig Hutton

 Reflections by Dr Craig Hutton, GeoData Institute, University of Southampton-     Research Coordinator for ESPA Deltas project

Workshop Reference: UNESCO International Workshop on Sustainability Science: A Science Based Approach to Realize the Future We Want for All. 4th – 5th April 2013, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Website:


The ESPA Deltas project- Assessing Health, Livelihoods, Ecosystem Services And Poverty Alleviation In Populous Deltas – was invited to a UNESCO international workshop on the applications of Sustainability Science to their Asian Pacific activities. The GeoData Institute, University of Southampton has, under the auspices of the Sustainability Science Southampton (SSS), been engaged with UNESCO and the MEXT of Japan (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology) in developing a document that will highlight the role and application of the science underpinning sustainable development.

The ESPA Deltas project was invited to present as a case study in Sustainability Science with specific reference to the three critical components of the project: 1) environment/ecology; 2) socio-economics/economics; and 3) government/governance; and more specifically the integration of these three. The meeting was of particular interest to the ESPA Deltas project as we have been developing ideas on how we promote tools etc. that could be transferable to other socio-ecological systems. This includes systems dynamics approaches and work in such areas as scenario development.

The workshop programme included presentations from experts in the field of Sustainability Science as well as a series of high profile talks about UNESCO’s Sustainability Initiative, including high level UNESCO representation from Paris. There was some debate regarding the definition of Sustainability Science and the fact that this hinges on the definition of sustainability itself. The problem here is that there is no clear single definition of sustainability.

What I would suggest is that we accept the nebulous nature of sustainability, at least for now, and not allow that potentially intractable debate to stop the development of what is a very necessary tool set.  We need to develop practical tools in the field of sustainability, and we need to do so in parallel with the vying definitions of sustainability. So what is a pragmatic approach here? Well Sustainability Science should be a method. As such I would suggest that we focus on methodologies we know to be effective and focus on the benefits of participation, stakeholder involvement and a focus on effective decision making supported by a strong evidence base. Indeed we can extend the participatory paradigm by truly incorporating experts and communities not only in the development of option and awareness raising but more centrally in the capture of key issues, development of scenarios, the weighting of statistical models (capturing expertise which can be practiced at a community level as well as in formal government) and the design of visualisation and information outputs. In effect, placing the stakeholder profile at the centre of the work and not simply as a validator or advisory role.  Finally we need to recognise the body of emerging work on systems based approaches. These approaches allow for the true integration of socio-environmental issues and have a substantive potential to enhance the decision making process and the formulation and testing of policy.

However we need to be clear that as an applied method, Sustainability Science does not in itself provide a policy direction or make the choice in a situation of trade-off, it simply attempts to answers questions posed by stakeholders, and it is the question we ask that is the real decision making process.  If I ask which of a suite of policies will raise GDP I may receive one answer, however, if I ask which policy will alleviate poverty I may find a completely different solution. Both valid answers supported by an evidence base, but the strategic decision was already made in the question being asked of the science.

There is a large body of work to be conducted to understand what are the questions being asked before we apply Sustainability Science and what sort of world we want to live in. It is not enough to say a “sustainable world”. We need to characterise what exactly it is that we want to be sustained. Of course we may espouse the desire to have equity and social justice but more often decision makers find themselves in positions of making difficult decisions regarding trade-offs where there will inevitably be winners and losers. At this juncture, Sustainability Science can offer two clear services:

1) to allow policy makers to test various policies against desired outcomes set by the governance framework (scenario development and systems based models that integrate over themes); and

2) to provide transparency in that process linking the process of making policy decisions to an evidence base.

In ESPA Deltas we are seeing an example of the need for decision makers to define what their possible visions of the future are in the management of the delta front of Bangladesh.  In its simplest form the delta front is experiencing degradation through climatic and direct anthropogenic impacts which are degrading agricultural land through salination. This in turn has the effect of lowering land prices and, combined with the potential to find work in urban centres, driving people out of the rural environments. Such a process results in increased urban population which drives up demand for diverse food types (e.g. meat and shrimp) and export income. This pressure results in agro-business taking up the rural land through various means and the development of intensive agricultural practices – often trading short term financial gain for the richer elements of society prepared to invest with further degradation of agricultural land (e.g. shrimp fisheries) driving the process forward again. The question is what is the vision of the future here? Is it:

1)      What the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) refers to as a “techno garden” where the rural areas are efficiently farmed by commercial interests with substantial work on relieving urban poverty and dramatically improving welfare (very much an approach that has occurred in the West)?; or

2)      The aim to develop a sustainable future for the rural population in-situ that balances rural stewardship of the land, sustainable development with production needs?

Both can be argued to be the way forward, or the most practical approach. However there is a need for decision makers to define the vision or at least explore options before formulating key questions for Sustainability Science to answer. Sustainability Science will work best within a framework of testing strategic ideas. Without exploring carefully with users what they are considering we may find ourselves answering questions that are not being asked or missing the opportunity to identify why their current thinking may not be the solution that was hoped for.

The ESPA Deltas presentation, which can be downloaded along with the other presentations (see here), suggested that there are four key areas of activity within a project or intervention that might define it as utilising “Sustainability Science”. These are:

1)        Integration, which links the socio-environmental context of the project together by viewing the Bangladesh delta front as a single “system” as opposed to a series of parallel systems that are integrated by the final user (e.g. a systems dynamics approach);

2)      Stakeholder driven, which highlights the need to gather, perceptions, data and information from a wide profile of stakeholders with particular reference to the community base. This should include the inclusion of stakeholders in modelling processes such as the development of weighting, identification of indicator sets and development of scenarios;

3)      Equity/Poverty centred, highlighting the need to ensure that the project aims to address issues of poverty and/or equity;

4)      Support decision makers, emphasising that the design of outputs should be guided early on in the project by the specified needs of those who will be making decisions, from a community level up. Examples of this approach include the development of decision support systems, community support information & policy testing facilities and scenario development.

The GeoData Institute along with ESSC (Philippines) have now been asked by UNESCO/MEXT to write a joint proposal developing tools and approaches for the application of systems dynamics conceptual approaches (drawing flow diagrams of relationships and quantifications between socio-environmental components) to be applied at a community level in Bangladesh, Philippines and Indonesia.


Further details:

Follow Craig Hutton on Twitter- @CraigHutton4

GeoData Institute website:

ESPA Deltas Project: 

Twitter- @ESPADeltas


Sustainability Science at Southampton:

Twitter- @SustainScience


MDR Week: Blog no 9- Be a Green Shopper

March 15, 2013
by Alison Simmance

Join Alison Simmance and members of the Green Academy, WSA and the Sustainability Science at Southampton USRG to create your own eco-friendly shopping bag from recycled material (the University 60th Anniversary ‘Changing the world’ campaign banners) at the drop in session ‘Be a Green Shopper’ on Thursday 21st March. Further details about this fun drop-in session can be found below.


Be a Green Shopper




In 2011, I had the privilege to volunteer with a small charity to provide disadvantaged communities in the slums of Nakuru, Kenya with humanitarian support, resources and assistance to help educate vulnerable school children in the community.

During my time spent in Nakuru, I visited the Gioto Garbage Slum which is home to an estimated 600 people (50% children) whose lives are balanced on more than 50 years of waste deposited from the local region. Here, I witnessed the inspiring work of local women. To help alleviate the inhabitants from poverty, an innovative business – the Nakuru Women’s Plastic Recycling Business – was developed with the local community which provides women with an ingenious way to earn money by creating purses and handbags from recycled plastics.

Inspired by this innovation, I created the ‘Be a Green Shopper’ initiative which I will be launching during the Multidisciplinary Research Week 2013. Working in association with the University’s Winchester School of Art and the Green Academy; the event will allow you to create your own eco-friendly shopping bag from recycled material. The University 60th Anniversary ‘Changing the world’ campaign banners will be used as the material and will create a long-lasting legacy of sustainability within the University.

This is a fantastic opportunity for you to become a Green Shopper and help minimise your environmental impact.

All are welcome to this dynamic fun drop-in session!



Further details can be found on the Sustainability Science at Southampton USRG website:


For the latest news and events about the Multidisciplinary Research Week 2013, visit our Multidisciplinary Research website:

or follow us on Twitter @MultiSoton #MDRWeek