Energy SHINES Net Zero Work Placement Reports

19 Mar 2024

The Energy SHINES project – delivered through the Whole Systems Networking Fund – was set up to facilitate partnerships between women Early Career Researchers from energy social science and humanities backgrounds and organisations in key non-energy sectors undertaking work towards net zero.

The project involved six work placements across five partner organisations:

  • The National Health Service (NHS)
  • Yorkshire Water
  • Cambridgeshire County Council
  • The UK Government’s Office for Product Safety and Standards
  • The Royal Institute of British Architects

Below is a set of linked publications written by the placement-holders following completion of their project. Each brief reflects on the sector-wide challenges exemplified by the host organisations, and how a social sciences and humanities perspective could help tackle them.

Transition challenges

Each of the partner organisations face significant and unique challenges as they transitions to net zero. The Energy SHINES project responded to three gaps in traditional approaches to meeting these challenges.

  • Firstly, evidence and insights used to inform energy transitions have traditionally been drawn from technical, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) disciplines, excluding insights from the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). This matters, because transitions to net zero involve decisions and collective action by people who use energy systems, and these cannot be managed through technological fixes alone.
  • Secondly, technical disciplines are mostly dominated by men – women made up just 14.5% of UK engineers in 2021.
  • Finally, a significant amount of energy-related research and knowledge transfer has focused on energy policy as the key lever of change. However, non-energy sectors such as those represented by the Energy SHINES partners – water, healthcare and local government, for example – play a vital role in energy systems, and therefore decisions in these sectors are key to successful societal transitions to net zero.

Placement processes

The placements involved each of the partners articulating one particular challenge that they wished to address as part of their transition to net zero. We then had an open call for applications from women doctoral researchers working within SSH disciplines. We provided funding for a paid five-week placement at each partner organisation, during which the researchers were supervised by a key contact and supported by an academic member of the Energy SHINES team. The advantage to our participating partners was the provision of highly trained, professional SSH researchers working on an applied problem that was an active focus in the organisation’s net zero work. The ‘draw’ for participating researchers was the ability to showcase SSH expertise within an applied, non-academic context, achieve real impact within a time-bound and relatively tractable project, and network with non-academic stakeholders with an active interest in applying SSH to net zero challenges.

Each researcher used their placement to provide an SSH-informed response to the challenges faced by their host organisation. The placements were preceded by a one-day policy challenges workshop in February 2023, where the hosts discussed their challenges with a wider group of women doctoral researchers, and where placement-holders were able to receive input and recommendations from their peers in advance of starting their placements.

The challenges our placement-holders tackled included:

  • For the Office for Product Safety and Standards: ‘The implications of net zero for product safety’
  • For the Royal Institute of British Architects: ‘Developing a policy position on the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard’
  • For the NHS Transport team: ‘Contributing to the development of a globally ambitious programme to get staff, patients and visitors to choose sustainable travel options’
  • For the NHS Digital Healthcare team: ‘Understanding the carbon impacts of digital healthcare’
  • For Cambridgeshire County Council: ‘Understanding how circular economy principles can help reduce household waste’
  • For Yorkshire Water: ‘Raising consumer awareness of energy- and water-saving targets’

Each placement-holder conducted desk-based research, spoke to key stakeholders and researchers on existing perspectives, solutions and resources, and explored the SSH research literature directly. Placement-holders were given free rein to proactively develop the best approach to tackling the specific energy challenge they were working on, in consultation with the placement host. In several instances, this meant fundamentally expanding or changing the terms of reference for the placement, reframing the challenge faced by each host to better account for an SSH-informed understanding of it.

Placement outputs

Each placement-holder produced two policy briefs at the end of their placements. The first was a targeted response to the placement hosts’ unique net zero challenge. The second was a wider reflection on the sector-wide challenges exemplified by the host organisation, and on how an SSH lens could help to tackle these. These second, public briefs are collated below, and each demonstrates an SSH perspective on the unique challenges articulated by our partners. The process of writing the briefs was supported by a series of workshops with a professional writing facilitator, who provided expert guidance on the process and craft of academic writing for non-academic audiences.

Our completed project has showed that early career SSH researchers can make a significant and unique contribution to net zero work in large organisations, and that bringing SSH energy perspectives to non-energy organisations can generate critical avenues to support net zero transitions.

Finally, as a project for women, led by women, Energy SHINES makes a key contribution to the field of energy research by creating space for women’s perspectives and expertise in a traditionally male-dominated arena. By amplifying women’s voices and bringing a critical SSH lens, the project contributes to influencing policy and practice towards greater inclusivity and diversity.

  1. What is the Carbon Footprint of Digital Healthcare?
  2. Social Science Approaches to Understanding the Implications of a Net Zero Transformation of Society
  3. Modern Methods of Construction for Net Zero Housing: Implications from the social sciences and humanities
  4. Watt-er Conservation: Conversations on energy use in water services
  5. Local Governance, The Circular Economy and Household Waste: A practice theory approach to waste minimisation
  6. Just Parking: Fair and sustainable travel policies for large organisations

The Energy SHINES project team was co-led by Dr Zareen Bharucha (GSI) and Dr Rihab Khalid (University of Cambridge), and included Prof. Aled Jones, Prof. Rosie Robison, Dr Sarah Royston, Dr Mel Rohse and Ms Felicity Clarke (all at the GSI).