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Chapter One: Introduction

The Sustainable Places Research Institute was established at Cardiff University in 2010 out of a conviction that achieving sustainable development demanded new approaches to academic research.

Instead of prevailing technical or sectoral approaches to sustainability, and an emphasis on influencing individual behaviour and markets, the Institute approached sustainability as rooted in the day-to-day interaction of social, economic and environmental systems, and inseparable from issues of social and environmental justice and of governance.

To understand fully the complex interactions which continue to promote unsustainable practices, we chose the real-world lens of ‘place’ and brought together a wide range of academic disciplines – Geography, Biology and Ecology, Economics and Marketing, Political Science, Sociology, Psychology, Earth Science and Philosophy. This forced us to find ways to work together across very different disciplinary approaches and methods, using the reality of physical places, with all their complexity and ‘messiness’, to anchor all our work.

We adopted the ethic of working in partnership with communities and other interests rather than seeing them as objects of study. Our aim was to help academics, communities, non-governmental organisations, public authorities, and businesses work together and develop solutions which were meaningful for them, their localities and their values.

Over its lifetime, the Institute played a formative role in developing academic research which can connect theories with practical experience to generate new ways of addressing the challenges of sustainable development. This focus has reframed research agendas, generated new tools and methods, and informed international and national practice. Our work on sustainable place-making has also forged lasting partnerships and projects which continue beyond the lifetime of the Sustainable Places Research Institute. We leave behind a rich legacy of significant practical initiatives and policy impacts, leading academic publications, and, above all, a group of researchers who will continue to bring our learning to new pastures.