South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre has placed sustainability at the heart of our region

Professor of Sustainable Chemical Engineering and Director of the South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre, Rachael Rothman, highlights the region's sustainable needs.

Urban Flows Observatory's MARVEL, a Multi-spectral Advanced Research VEhicLe.

The effects of climate change are all around us, from habitat and species loss, to hotter, drier summers and extreme weather events.

We all know that to combat climate change we need to urgently reduce carbon emissions, but doing so without balancing the connected economic and social issues will only lead to more inequality and poverty in society. The challenges we face are complex and cut across industries, society and academic disciplines, but there are also opportunities; for jobs, economic growth and a more sustainable and thriving future.

At the University of Sheffield, we want to help South Yorkshire meet the challenges posed by the climate emergency, while also providing positive opportunities for the people, places and businesses in the region.

That’s why we’ve worked with the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, Sheffield Hallam University and councils and businesses across the region to establish the South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre. The first of its kind in the UK, this is a different kind of research centre, where leading academics from our city’s universities work directly with businesses, public sector organisations and charities to connect sustainability research with the people who need it to address key challenges that we face as a region. 

The unique centre is focused on three key areas that represent the highest-emitting and most difficult to decarbonise parts of the economy and relate directly to regional priorities. Tackling these areas will have a massive impact on our region, from decarbonising to meet net-zero targets to creating new, green jobs across South Yorkshire.

We're looking at how homes in South Yorkshire can be retrofitted to reduce energy use and improve health and wellbeing, as well as understanding how and why people move around to reduce transport emissions. It is incredibly important to look at these systems as a whole so that we can help organisations make decisions on services that are not only more sustainable, but which are also better for the people using them.

Professor Rachael Rothman
Professor Racheal Rothman

To achieve net-zero within the UK food system we need to develop technologies and processes that reduce the amount of CO2 emitted from “farm to fork”. That’s why we’re looking at how we can produce food using low-carbon processes, embedded in local and regional communities. 

Finally, we are working with regional industry and business to help them decarbonise and move to using clean fuels whilst maintaining the quality of their products. In South Yorkshire we have major manufacturers in foundational industries that underpin the UK’s economy. Decarbonising these industries in South Yorkshire will bring far wider benefits at a national level.

Taking a bigger picture approach

The South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre’s research is taking a big picture approach to these challenges. To balance the needs of the environment, society and economy our solutions don’t only have to answer the scientific and engineering problems they are tackling, but they also need to answer other important sustainability questions.

That’s why every project we work on will have input from an interdisciplinary team from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University so that the solutions we provide can truly drive forward sustainability in South Yorkshire. 

We want to provide local and national policy makers with the evidence they need to make sustainable policy decisions for the future. We want to ensure that the transition to a sustainable South Yorkshire is centred around the views, wellbeing and livelihoods of its citizens. We want to capture, track and model data to measure sustainability impacts and we want to assess the resilience of supply chains to identify ways to improve local sourcing and technological innovations.

Big challenges bring exciting opportunities

The journey towards a just and sustainable future brings opportunities that will benefit the whole of South Yorkshire. The Centre is ideally placed to develop the solutions that are needed to ensure that our communities, businesses and places take the benefits that a sustainable future will bring. We want South Yorkshire to be a fantastic place to live and work for generations to come and the work that the Sustainability Centre is doing is vital to achieve that.

Next month the Centre will bring together the region’s leaders, business community and practitioners to hear about the progress we have made during the Centre’s first year. They will discover how the South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre has placed sustainability at the heart of our region and find out about the positive influence that our research will have on South Yorkshire and beyond. 

We are living through an important moment in time. The action we take now will shape the future of the planet. The decisions and changes we make now will have an immense impact on that future.

It makes me incredibly proud to know that South Yorkshire is playing such a pivotal role in the journey to a sustainable future. 

Sustainability is the future.

*This article originally appeared in the Sheffield Telegraph 

Centres of excellence

The University's cross-faculty research centres harness our interdisciplinary expertise to solve the world's most pressing challenges.