Extracting and refining the materials used in the economy is an energy-intensive process that requires the use of fossil fuels and thus generates carbon emissions. The Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIE-MAP) was created to generate knowledge concerning how to reduce the consumption of materials as a means to address the climate change caused by excessive carbon emissions.
In a collaboration with Leeds University, Bath University and Cardiff University, Nottingham Trent University received around £1.25m of a £6.2m RCUK grant for CIE-MAP, one of six research centres funded to address ‘end use energy demand’. Our expertise in design, sustainable consumption and behavioural analysis complemented the scientific expertise of our partners.
Addressing the Challenge
CIE-MAP has identified and explored various changes in public policy, business practices and consumer behaviour that have the potential to reduce the nation's consumption of materials.
There has been a growth in interest in product lifetimes as a way to address excessive materials consumption, as proposed in the EU Circular Economy Action Plan and the UK Resources and Waste Strategy. Nottingham Trent University’s research team focussed on this theme, addressing a range of topics across different industry sectors and from the perspective of different stakeholders, as demonstrated in the following examples.
A survey revealed consumers’ expectations of product lifetimes and their level of satisfaction. Another study considered how best to recover discarded electrical appliances, furniture and other consumer durables with the aim of increasing reuse was explored through qualitative research with a range of stakeholders. Opportunities to scale-up the market for upcycled products were identified using mixed methods research. An online data search followed by content analysis identified the extent to which current business models promote durable product design, enhanced repair and upgrade services, and product take-back. Finally, industry interviews were used to compare longer lasting cars and car sharing as alternative strategies for increasing resource efficiency.
Collectively these studies identified many opportunities to reduce material consumption, while also revealing some of the obstacles to change.
NTU’s multidisciplinary team was led by Professor Tim Cooper, a social scientist who has worked in the field of product longevity for over twenty years. He initiated the biennial PLATE (Product Lifetimes and the Environment) conferences and is editor of Longer Lasting Products (Routledge, 2010).
Alongside researchers at Leeds, Cardiff and Bath, NTU researchers collaborated with industry representatives, government departments such as Defra and BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), the Committee on Climate Change, WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) and the Green Alliance. The NTU team included Dr Jagdeep Singh, Dr Giuseppe Salvia, Dr Naomi Braithwaite, Dr Mariale Moreno, Dr Kyungeun Sung and Dr Alex Rodrigues.
Making a Difference
Findings from the Project are enabling government and industry policymakers to understand the relationship between product lifetimes and carbon emissions and to identify factors that influence the intrinsic durability of consumer goods and how long consumers choose to keep them.
Two briefing notes aimed at policymakers in industry and government provide an overview of the research:
- Raising consumer demand for longer lasting products: challenges and opportunities
- Resource efficiency and lower carbon emissions through waste reduction
In addition, research funded through the project informed a written submission to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee enquiry on Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy.
Project findings have also been disseminated to the academic community: NTU researchers in CIE-MAP have produced 19 peer reviewed journal papers and 7 book chapters, and have made over 40 conference presentations.
Further information on the work of all four university partners is provided on the CIE-MAP website.