Funded studentships

Five fully funded studentships have been created to address the significant and previously hidden role digital data practices have in contributing to society’s carbon footprint.

Despite the media’s focus on carbon emissions from the automotive, aviation and energy sectors, the data industry is likely to produce more emissions than these industries combined. Our studentships will investigate ecosystem solutions for digital decarbonisation – helping to accelerate the path to net zero.

The digital ecosystem is made up of a set of interrelated dynamics at the micro level (individuals, groups, teams), meso level (organisations, networks, stakeholder groups) and macro level (societal norms and beliefs, industry, policy).

Each project has a primary focus within a specific level of the ecosystem, but will intersect with other projects at different levels for a transdisciplinary approach integral to addressing climate change and net zero.

Studentship topics

The impact of new technologies adoption on creative industries production: How to manage positive and negative environmental impacts? (macro focus)

Supervisory team: Graham Hitchen, Lisa Jackson, Kate Broadhurst and Ian Hodgkinson.

The creative industries are among the largest and most digital of the UK’s industrial sectors. Within creative industries we are witnessing two contrasting effects: the fast adoption of technology is, to some extent, reducing the carbon impact of otherwise high-impact sectors whilst simultaneously stimulating increased reliance on the energy-sapping processes of data rendering, server farms and audience-streaming that contribute significantly to the data CO2 footprint. 

Despite the centrality of the creative industries to climate change, little academic research or policy currently exists for creative industries to reach net zero. Working closely with research partners, this exciting new project will involve investigation of the impact and potential of digital adoption for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from creative industries; assessment of the impact of creative technologies for digital decarbonisation; and examination of overlooked creative industries sectors which are adopting digital technologies at a slower pace (eg fashion and museums) and how this transformation can be managed in a sustainable way for both the environment and the sectors.

Advancing public service design in the age of digitalisation: Can public service ecosystems manage digital decarbonisation under austerity? (macro-meso focus)

Supervisory team: Kate Broadhurst, Nicola Paine, Ian Hodgkinson and Tom Jackson.

As governments worldwide accelerate the adoption of digital technologies to enhance service delivery (eg service automation, smart cities, connected infrastructure etc), understanding the environmental consequences becomes paramount. Join us in exploring the intricate interplay between digital technology integration and sustainability within public service ecosystems that are faced with ongoing budgetary constraints and austerity measures.

By examining organisational practices at the meso-level and unravelling the systemic interactions across the macro-level institutional framework, your work will contribute to a holistic understanding of the digital public service landscape and value (co)creation across the data-scape. Embrace the challenge of mitigating the carbon footprint of data, pioneer new methodologies, and pave the way for environmental and financial sustainability in public service delivery for the benefit of people, place and planet. Join us on this journey to shape a more environmentally conscious future for digital innovation in the public sector.

Lifelong learning and shareable models: How to reduce the energy footprint of AI and contribute to a sustainable decarbonised future? (meso focus)

Supervisory team: Andrea Soltoggio, Vitor Castro, Rebecca Higginson and Tom Jackson.

Current AI models are not designed to reuse and share knowledge. When conditions change eg data distributions, locations or platforms, retraining needs to occur from scratch. In some cases, like for foundation models or for complex robotics tasks, the process requires very large amounts of data and energy. Recent advances towards lifelong learning and shareable models promise to create a new efficient AI landscape in which machine-learned knowledge can be built incrementally and worldwide with optimised energy use.

This PhD project aims to advance the latest lifelong learning and shareable AI models to contribute to reducing the energy footprint of AI.

Systems storytelling of digital decarbonisation: What role do stories play, and which need to be told, for change across the digital ecosystem? (meso-micro focus)

Supervisory team: Thomas Jun, Mike Wilson, Graham Hitchen and Tom Jackson.

Systems thinking and systems mapping are essential in unpacking tensions, trade-offs and dilemmas in the complex issues around digital decarbonisation and system change. As identified by the Design Council (Beyond Net Zero, 2021), effective transition to net zero and beyond requires system thinking to see how everything is interconnected in a bigger picture and zoom between the micro and macro and across silos; and, storytelling to create and tell great stories about what might be possible and why this is important, which is needed for buy-in from all levels and the tenacity to see change through.

Digital decarbonisation is complex involving competing goals, trade-offs and dilemmas. Using systems approaches can help unpack these tensions and interactions in the journey towards digital decarbonisation. Storytelling offers a powerful tool to communicate these complexities and facilitate system changes. In this PhD research, we aim to examine how combining systems thinking and storytelling can help individuals and companies understand these complexities and translate them into actionable insights for digital decarbonisation.  We are seeking motivated individuals passionate about sustainability, systems thinking, innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration. We welcome applicants from diverse backgrounds including design, management, engineering, creative arts and beyond.

The impact of digital decarbonisation on physical and mental health: What role does stress-associated climate change play? (micro focus)

Supervisory team: Nicola Paine, Rebecca Higginson, Lisa Jackson and Ian Hodgkinson.

Psychological stress exposure is a risk factor for a range of long-term health conditions. A prominent, real-world and ongoing stressor is climate change, which can impact our physical and mental health and yet remains largely unexplored. As society progresses decarbonisation efforts towards net zero, such efforts may also act as an inadvertent stressor for individuals across the digital ecosystem. The human and environmental benefits of digital technologies (eg wearables, social media, voice assistants etc) need to be considered against the potential negative impacts (eg data security and privacy, data CO2, dark data etc) for individuals and the environment.

This project is an exciting opportunity to investigate the different stress-related implications of digital decarbonisation and explore the impacts on physical and mental health across a wide range of individuals.