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Partnerships between businesses and researchers are fundamental to generating real impact towards sustainability, reveals new report

last modified Mar 02, 2017 12:18 PM
8 December 2016 – A new business report published today by CISL shows the importance of collaboration between businesses and academics to ensure that academic research is informed by business and enables more rapid progress towards sustainability.

Read the report: Nexus2020: The most important research questions for business sustainability


Professor William Sutherland, Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Cambridge said:

“As environmental degradation increasingly threatens societal and business norms, businesses must sustainably manage their impacts and dependencies on food, water and energy. It is now time to realise that co-design between researchers and businesses should not be a ‘nice-to-have’, but a requirement that ensures impact and application.”

The study builds upon a CISL-led academic paper published in the scientific journal Sustainability Science in October 2016. It is the first of its kind to bring businesses and academics together to address the challenges companies have in managing their impact and dependencies on food, energy, water and the environment. 

Over 250 stakeholders, including representatives from companies such as Asda, EDF Energy, HSBC and Nestlé and academics from institutions including Cambridge, Leeds and Exeter universities, contributed to the study. From this, 40 critical research priorities were identified at a two-day workshop. These span different themes including incentives for change, collaboration and stakeholder engagement, investing in sustainability, supply chains taking a landscape approach and making better policy.

Since the list of priority research questions was produced in 2015, The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has begun to investigate some of the questions, including ‘What common metrics can be devised to enable nexus comparisons to be made in order to help businesses and investors choose priorities and inform decision?’ CISL is leading this important piece of work by engaging with researchers as well as with members of the Natural Capital Leaders Platform and the Investment Leaders Group to begin answering this priority research area.

The report is a result of the Nexus2020 project, which set out to bridge the gap between the business and academic worlds. The project was co-ordinated by CISL and is part of the Nexus Network, a three-year initiative funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

James Wilsdon, Director of the Nexus Network said:

“There's a growing urgency to tackle the linked agendas of food, water and energy security. The Nexus2020 project is a brilliant example of how to get leading businesses and researchers working together to define research priorities and pathways to implementation. It's precisely this kind of cross-disciplinary, user-driven approach that the Nexus Network was set up to support.”

Eva Blixt, Research Manager, Jernkontoret, Swedish Steel Industry said:

“For the Swedish steel industry to contribute towards achieving a sustainable economy and create societal value it needs to work across the nexus. This will help develop the necessary tools and technology to ensure the competitiveness of the industry, whilst minimizing its environmental impact on water, land and air. The Nexus2020 process, together with an approach that addresses long-term challenges, is crucial to ensure that the right science and research underpin complex business and policy decisions that impact industries like ours.”

The Nexus2020: The most important research questions for business sustainability report provides a summary of research priorities and explains why partnerships between businesses and researchers are critical in the long term for companies to thrive. It calls for multidisciplinary panels of researchers and business practitioners to develop specific projects that can deliver the research required to answer pressing nexus issues. It also outlines the opportunities of this co-production approach for research funding agencies interested in making high-impact investments that can provide value to society, the environment and business alike.

Andy Gibbs, Head of Economic Performance & Environment at ESRC said:

“Part of ESRC’s vision in funding the Nexus Network was to enable collaboration and interdisciplinary working in understanding Nexus issues, which has been exemplified through the valuable Nexus2020 process of bringing together businesses and academics. This report highlights the benefits of co-design between the private sector and researchers by using a collaborative approach to shape research priorities that will inform policy and innovation.”

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Gemma Cranston

Dr Gemma Cranston, Director, Natural Capital

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