Institute for Sustainability

Digital technology and sustainability

Digital technology and sustainability

Researchers are investigating new roles for digital technologies to support and engage people in more sustainable ways of working and living.

Almost everything we do in our domestic and non-domestic lives draws on natural resources and results in harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Research at the Open Lab strives to understand this relationship, between what people do, the resources they draw upon, and the resulting effects on our environment.

Pervasive sensing for collaborative facilities management

Internet of Things (IoT) for sustainable building or facilities management. Researchers are exploring the utility of low-cost, easy to install, sensor networks for indoor environments to transform how building management is done. By monitoring and making available sensor data about indoor temperature, light, humidity, and occupancy, they are looking to provide managers with more localised and informed views of energy-reliant environments under their control. This includes toolsets to investigate energy and discomfort issues such as overheating and glare. 

They are also exploring the value of instrumented work environments for the people who occupy them. How can occupants, who are most familiar with how particular environments are experienced and used in everyday work life, play a more active role in how these are managed? To this end, the team is investigating how to design collaborative digital technologies for occupants and management to negotiate about the appropriateness and sustainability of workplace design and resource use.

Research Team:

Wireless sensor for environmental monitoring.


WEFWebs is a large-scale, multi-university project that will bring together various policy makers, consumers and organisations to map the overlap in flows and boundaries of the Water, Energy and Food (WEF) systems in the UK. The project will develop a series of mapping exercises in three case study locations: London, Oxford and the Tamar estuary, to examine the impact of policy and action at individual, household, catchment and regional levels on the web of resource consumption. 

Open Lab will be contributing to the study of households and urban farms using sensors in the home and on the farm and ask people to send in their own data to the mapping exercises. Through these exercises we hope to identify areas where we can improve infrastructures and consumption patterns.

Research Team:

Mint Cake

The Mint Cake project is exploring novel ways to engage citizens and communities with local and global sustainability issues. Such issues are often abstract, invisible, and distanced from how we live our daily lives, meaning that our good intentions often fail to materialise in practice.  

To address this, the team is investigating the use of ‘living sensors’ to generate stronger citizen engagement by providing tangible, material, and contextually relevant feedback on the levels and effects of pollution. Using home grown crops as sensors, we are producing large-scale measurement of urban air quality in Newcastle. We are crowdsourcing crop samples for contamination testing to build a map of air quality in the city, and exploring ways that this platform can be used to engage households and communities with pollution, climate change and citizen sensing.

Research Team: 

Differences in colour represent the variation in air pollution density across the city.
Air quality data visualised on an urban map. Differences in colour represent the variation in air pollution density across the city.