Three Masters students awarded dissertation prizes

The Department for Social Responsibility & Sustainability is delighted to announce that three students have won prizes for their Masters dissertations.

Launched earlier this year, the SRS Dissertation Prizes aim to highlight and recognise student research on social responsibility and sustainability themes.

A panel of academics from across the University judged 43 Masters entries on their contribution to furthering knowledge and / or understanding of social responsibility and / or sustainability.

Three students were awarded prizes, each receiving £150 and a £50 voucher for an ethical organisation of their choice.

The Prize Winners

Ciara Beausang, MSc Food Security

Dissertation title:  ‘Pre farm gate horticultural food waste in Scotland’

Summary:  It is estimated that 1.3 million tonnes of food waste are generated in Scotland annually. However, this figure excludes losses that arise in primary production. Currently very little is known about how much food is wasted on Scottish farms. Ciara’s dissertation examined the issue of food waste occurring on Scottish fruit and vegetables farms, including the causes, views of farmers, and usage and disposal routes. She argues that reducing food waste and losses is one of the most promising measures to improve food security and sustainability in the coming decades. This research reveals that farmers do not identify the concept of food waste as an issue of primary concern and that food waste is perceived to be an intrinsic part of agriculture. The farmers in this study did not routinely record waste and many had difficulty in estimating food losses on their farm. Levels of waste were estimated to be between 20-50 percent for vegetables and between 1-15 percent for soft fruit. Ciara recommends that prevention of pre farm gate food waste and losses should be a priority, which could be tackled through relaxing cosmetic specifications for produce and investing in Scottish processing facilities.

Judges’ comments:  The issue of food waste on farms is an important, interesting and under-researched topic. This dissertation is a fascinating read, and fills a gap in what is known about pre farm gate food waste and farmers’ attitudes. and the recommendations on each of the key findings are valuable, pointing to a potential for huge social impact. A range of farm sizes and markets are covered. The dissertation is well articulated and well argued.

Connor Heyward, MSc Environmental Sustainability

Dissertation title: ‘Community energy in Ireland: potential for sustainable rural development’

Summary: Connor’s dissertation examines five different examples of community energy in Ireland and the links to rural development, and examines the potential of the energy co-op model to further Ireland’s progress towards its low carbon commitments. It is set in the context of the narrative of a decline of rural communities, which have poor connectivity, and a ‘brain drain’ with high numbers moving to cities. Connor considers how community energy schemes can enable rural communities to grow and prosper, becoming better places to live, work and grow up in, as well as helping meet emissions targets. Community energy projects are associated with a wide range of benefits, including increasing social acceptance of renewable energy, encouraging more sustainable behaviours, developing social capital, and creating more community resilience through the development of new local knowledge and skills, and by generating sources of sustainable income to remote rural communities. The dissertation argues that rural Ireland’s biggest resource is its people, and that investment in community energy schemes can enable substantial numbers of engaged citizens who can transform rural life for the better.

Judges' comments: The relationship between community energy and rural development is an interesting one. This research provides a good starting point for further investigation in this area. The dissertation is well written with a high quality literature review, draws on interesting case examples and is well argued.                                                                            

Ellie Tonks, MSc Ecological Economics

Dissertation title: ‘Assessing the sustainable city and the pillars that underpin it: a multi-criteria indicator-based approach’

Summary: Cities are said to generate 80% of greenhouse gas emissions and 75% of global energy production. The socio-economic trend of urbanisation is continuing across the globe, bringing with it issues such as air and water pollution and traffic congestion. There are attempts to tackle the issue of sustainable urban development at EU policy level, but there remain challenges around how to measure how sustainable cities are in relation to different criteria – which can help indicate where policy efforts should be focused. Ellie’s dissertation considers how to measure the level of success of a sustainable city, and then compares and ranks 19 global cities against 17 sustainability criteria. She discusses limitations of existing indicators used in sustainable city assessments. Using a multi-criteria decision-aid, this research identifies Stockholm as the most sustainable city of the 19 assessed, yet recognises the limitations in terms of city scale data availability and lack of governance indicators. The dissertation recommends further research to develop better urban indicator databases and governance indicators.

Judges’ comments: This dissertation includes an impressive literature review which helps us better understand the concept of a sustainable city. The research points to a need for further understanding of how governance approaches can best serve sustainable cities. The dissertation is well written and thought-provoking.