Chapter Five: Our Initiatives
The Sustainable Places Research Institute will leave a legacy in the ongoing impact of programmes promoted by its work.
5.1 Regrow Borneo
The expansion of palm oil plantations in the Lower Kinabatangan, Sabah, Malaysia has led to a loss of three quarters of rainforest cover since the early 1970s.
The Sustainable Places Research Institute was crucial in the development of Regrow Borneo, a forest restoration and research project established through an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Institute, the Danau Girang Field Centre and KOPEL Bhd in Borneo. It launched as an independent charity in late 2021 (www.regrowborneo.org).
Regrow Borneo’s mission is ethical, transparent, and research-led reforestation and carbon mitigation. At a time when actions on the climate crisis are more urgent than ever, the initiative goes beyond carbon sequestration, incorporating actions aimed at improving lives and livelihoods for local communities, and increasing biodiversity and ecosystem resilience in the Lower Kinabatangan.
The charity partners with local communities who grow seedlings from seed harvested in the forest, paying them a living wage for their work, and providing a sustainable alternative source of income to working in oil palm agriculture.
The Institute’s focus on place-based working was essential to the development of Regrow Borneo by combining the practicalities of forest restoration with research, particularly creating a social and natural science evidence-base for the effectiveness of our approach. As a result, the Regrow Borneo team includes specialists in ecology, soil erosion, biodiversity, ecological restoration, community values and forest governance, allowing us to understand how restoration affects the health of the forest and the people who live within and near this environment.
5.2 Deep Place
Deep Place is a holistic approach to sustainable place-making, focused on how to achieve more economically, socially, environmentally, and culturally sustainable places and communities. Developed by Professor Dave Adamson and Institute Honorary Fellow Mark Lang, the Deep Place method is based on the premise that a properly functioning economy should add to, rather than undermine, the social, environmental, and cultural sustainability of places and communities. It treats people as assets and each place as a unique set of opportunities.
SUSPLACE brought together six universities and seven non-academic partners in seven European countries, namely the Netherlands, Wales, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Finland and Portugal. The aim of the SUSPLACE network was to train early-stage researchers in innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to study sustainable place-shaping practices, funded by the European Commission and led by Wageningen University, NL. The network provided training in scientific and professional skills to enable researchers at early stages in their career to pursue academic or high-professional careers at various institutions, such as governments, non-governmental organizations, consultancies and businesses.
The SUSPLACE approach provides insight into how to utilise the full potential of places and communities for sustainable development and help to build capacities of people to engage in place-shaping processes and thus strengthen connectivity between policymakers, academics, businesses, and civil society.
5.4 Project Seagrass
Project Seagrass promotes societal change to enable the recognition, recovery, and resilience of seagrass ecosystems globally. This environmental charity, established in 2013 and housed within the Institute until 2021, is devoted to the conservation of seagrass ecosystems through education, influence, research, and action.
Project Seagrass has a dedicated interdisciplinary team who believe that we can respond to global challenges only by bringing together a diverse range of identities, experiences, and perspectives.
Project Seagrass was created to turn cutting-edge research into effective conservation action and education schemes, by collaborating with local communities and other stakeholders. As well as its education, awareness and conservation work internationally, Project Seagrass has gained global recognition for its seagrass spotter app, widely used as a tool for citizen science.