Stepping up. What will it take to accelerate a step-change in sustainability for water, energy and food? EPSRC funded project EP/N00583X/1 final report

Alice Larkin, Mohamad Abdel-Aal, Angela Druckman, Ruth Falconer, Paula J Forbes, Claire Hoolohan, Darren Lumbroso, Carly McLachlan, Marian Scott, Qingying Shu, Mike Simpson, Iain Soutar, James Suckling, Liz Varga

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Joined-up research can reveal positive, but also negative impacts of future policy decisions. Collecting and examining data, engaging stakeholders and mapping out scenarios across the nexus of water, energy and food can highlight the unintended negative consequences of possible future policies as well as the perceived benefits and these must be accounted for within the decision-making process.

Blurred boundaries between sectors signal a need for more integrated planning and management to tackle environmental challenges. There needs to be wider acceptance that boundaries between energy, water and food systems are increasingly blurred, both physically and politically. Analysis across these boundaries allows for greater understanding of how innovations may or may not work. Adaptive forms of governance can also help, as can a multi-stage decision-making process.

Responses to global environmental challenges must consider a range of contexts. Policymakers and organisations must ensure that social, geographical and governance considerations are factored into decision-making to ensure the successful uptake and sustainable development of innovations designed to respond to environmental challenges.

"One size fits all" solutions are unlikely to achieve sustained success. Designing context-specific solutions to environmental problems flexible enough to adapt as conditions and circumstances change may be complex and challenging for policymakers, but it offers a more sustainable pathway than the “one size fits all” approach often adopted today.

Stakeholder engagement is critical when seeking solutions to social and environmental challenges. Giving a range of stakeholders opportunities to reflect, challenge and contribute throughout a decision-making process is key to creating a framework that encompasses a wider context, delivers realistic insights and avoids the common prioritisation of financial concerns that can stifle innovation.

Good decision-making requires reflexivity to manage complexity and uncertainty. An awareness of the extent to which policy- and decision-making within one area of the water-energy-food nexus can impact other areas can help to mitigate and manage unintended consequences of those decisions. To support a step-change in sustainability, governance must find space for continuous and transdisciplinary reflection.

Relationships between producers, consumers and the environment matter. For an innovation to be up-scaled, there is a need to reconfigure systems of production, provision and consumption to create space for new emergent systems. This raises questions over risk, justice, equality, prosperity and societal wellbeing that researchers and decision makers must engage with.

To be sustainable, change must be made across multiple domains. In order to maximise the potential benefits of innovation in the areas of water, food and energy, focus must be on changing socio-tech-environmental conditions in multiple domains.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationManchester
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Stepping up. What will it take to accelerate a step-change in sustainability for water, energy and food? EPSRC funded project EP/N00583X/1 final report'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this