Four projects to design the UK’s green future

The projects will receive £4.6 million each to develop design-based solutions to pressing ecological challenges, including recycling, housing and healthcare.

The funding is going to:

  • a project from the GW4 Alliance of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities researching how to retrofit houses to improve energy efficiency
  • a project led by the universities of Strathclyde and Dundee aiming to make the use of medical equipment more sustainable
  • a project from a consortium led by Ulster University aiming to improve waste management in Northern Ireland
  • a project from the University of Cambridge mapping the green transition in Anglesey

The £18.5 million Green Transition Ecosystem projects are the flagship investments of Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition.

Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition is a £25 million collaborative programme funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and delivered in partnership with the Design Museum.

Ambitious action on climate change

Minister for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance Lord Callanan said:

The UK is a world leader on net zero, cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country.

These projects will further support our ambitious action on climate change – from designing sustainable products for the NHS to helping keep homes warm and bringing down energy bills.

And by working closely with communities, the projects will also make sure that local views and experiences are front and centre in our transition to a cleaner, more secure energy system.

Critical bridge between research and innovation

AHRC Executive Chair Professor Christopher Smith said:

Design is a critical bridge between research and innovation. Placing the individual act of production or consumption within the context of a wider system of social and economic behaviour is critical to productivity, development and sustainability.

That’s why design is the essential tool for us to confront and chart a path through our current global and local predicaments, and that’s why AHRC has placed design at the heart of its strategy for collaboration within UKRI.

From health systems to energy efficiency to sustainability, these four Green Transition Ecosystem projects the UK are at the cutting edge of design, offering models for problem solving, and will touch on lives right across the UK.

Positive real-world impact

Justin McGuirk, Director of Future Observatory at the Design Museum, London said:

We are delighted to be supporting and collaborating with these four centres of research excellence, on themes ranging from housing and waste to sustainability across the NHS.

Over the next two years, these projects will demonstrate how design research can yield positive real-world impact.

Adapting existing housing

A project led by the universities of Bath and Cardiff will design, test, implement and monitor innovative prototype bio-based technology to improve the energy efficiency and resilience of existing housing stock.

The housing sector is responsible for around 20% of the country’s total carbon emissions and 80% of the homes that will be occupied in 2050 are already built.

That means retrofitting the country’s existing housing stock to improve energy efficiency, and reduce carbon emissions, is critical to achieving the UK’s net zero targets.

The team will design, test, implement and monitor innovative prototype new designs to retrofit these home to improve the energy efficiency and resilience, and evaluate their performance compared to traditional synthetic materials.

Medical equipment

The Design HOPES project led by Professor Paul Rodgers of the University of Strathclyde and Professor Mel Woods of the University of Dundee will research how to improve sustainability in healthcare.

Planned projects include designing and developing products such as outdoor furniture created from recycled single-use personal protective equipment plastic waste.

The project will also develop environmentally-friendly, reusable operating theatre clothing, such as caps and gowns, that cut down on waste.

Design HOPES will partner with several NHS boards across Scotland, the Scottish Government and V&A Dundee. It will include diverse patient and public representation in its aim to become an internationally recognised centre of excellence for the UK.

Protecting Northern Ireland

The ‘Future Island-Island’ project is led by Ulster University in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast, The Glasgow School of Art and University of the Arts London.

It will improve public awareness and engagement with an intuitive, eco-friendly waste management culture.

The project will explore waste management solutions with the community of Rathlin Island before upscaling these across Northern Ireland, other parts of Ireland and beyond.

In partnership with local industry, this research considers the diverse challenges of managing plastics waste, beach littering, waste electronics and using organic waste as commodities to manufacture new sustainable materials.

It will:

  • use design to rethink how waste materials and equipment are managed and reused
  • develop a digital content strategy and economy supporting sustainable and responsible tourism

Anglesey’s green transition

Another project is led by Professor Flora Samuel from the University of Cambridge in partnership with Cardiff and Wrexham universities.

It will create a Community Open Map Platform for future generations to chart the green transition on Anglesey.

This will enable local authorities to capture the social, environmental and cultural value in a way that feeds into their systems and processes when monitoring the green transition.

It will enable them to do this easily by spatialising data so that it can be used as a basis for targeted hyperlocal action for a green transition.

The data gathered will be useful to local authorities beyond Anglesey, and will inform their decision making as they pursue their own green transitions.

Building a green future

These projects align with UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) ‘Building a green future’ strategic theme.

As part of this theme, UKRI is working with government departments, businesses and internationally to accelerate the UK’s transition to a secure and prosperous green economy.

Green Transition Ecosystems is a part of UKRI’s strategic £800 million per year portfolio of green investments developing solutions to help us meet our net zero targets.

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