Our theme is linked to the University's fourth global challenge, which focuses on sustainable physical, social and economic environments.
We are focused on the sustainability of our terrestrial, marine and freshwater environments, our climate, and human resilience.
We aim to champion research that pursues balanced land and water use, strong sustainable cities, communities and regions; sustainable urban futures and which supports strong environmental governance.
We look at new ways to respond to environmental and societal challenges and develop sustainable solutions.
Who we are
Seed funding projects
Towards sustainable genomics
Dr Annabel Whibley and Dr Nikki Freed will drive more sustainable practices in genomics by piloting alternative, more eco-friendly workflows for those commonly used in genomics laboratories. This pilot project will allow us, as researchers and as part of the genomics core facility (Auckland Genomics) to trial comparatively eco-friendly equivalents for two common experimental pipelines. Currently, these projects are run on Illumina sequencing platforms where reagents are supplied in large, plastic, single-use cartridges, and where the machines are energy-hungry (e.g. to support in-run refrigeration and robotics). The researchers will trial these workflows using an alternative, more eco-friendly sequencing device from Oxford Nanopore Technologies. This new chemistry allows for flow cells to be recycled, critical components recovered for re-use, and uses lightweight instruments that require less energy to run.
BikeTracks: Creating incentives for bicycle commuting by distinguishing their smartphone-based GPS tracks from other travel modes
How can we get more people to bike for their daily work commute? There are clear benefits of biking such as improved health and fitness, lower costs, and negligible impact on the environment. In this project we aim to enable bikers to collect “virtual incentives” for commuting, which could e.g. potentially be used as a credit to be used for public transport. Such credits are derived from voluntary smartphone-based tracking data like GPS or other sensors. The crucial research challenge we want to address is how to very accurately distinguish active modes of transport (bikes, e-bikes) from car transport. This seed fund will kickstart our longer term aim by developing a smartphone app to collect sensor tracks and by testing machine learning algorithms to distinguish these. The project is a collaboration between the School of Environment (Dr Katarzyna Sila-Nowicka) and the School of Computer Science (Dr Martin Urschler).
Towards a zero-waste town centre: Analysis of the Northcote Para Kore project and scoping for intervention
This research, driven by Dr Niki Harre and Dr Sarah Leadley, intends to work alongside a waste-related community development project, recording the successes and challenges faced by stakeholders. It will use evidence-based practices to support stakeholders in creating a zero-waste suburb in Northcote (Auckland). Northcote is a suburb set for redevelopment because the quality of housing, buildings and public facilities are no longer within acceptable standards. The redevelopment also serves as a pilot case study to investigate the actions required for Auckland to become zero-waste by 2040. As of the end of June 2021, a zero-waste hub was launched in the Northcote town-centre, where volunteers welcome and engage with the community around ways to minimise household waste. The student researcher will continue to volunteer at the hub, attend meetings and analyse formal interviews conducted with expert informants to further understand past, present and future decisions around waste minimisation in Northcote. This will also help identify a meaningful and socially valid intervention around waste minimisation for a later phase of the research. This project takes on an interdisciplinary approach that uses principles of community and behavioural psychology.
Empowering people with disabilities to divert organic waste to create a financially and environmentally sustainable future
People with disabilities are often overlooked in the conversation about climate change despite being a group of people that is likely to be disproportionally impacted by environmental and policy change. The current study by Dr Katrina Phillips and Dr Melanie Kah aims to work with people with intellectual disabilities (ID) to empower them to be leaders in their organisation to create a programme that redirects their organic waste from rubbish bins to composting systems. The researchers are wanting to understand the impact that different levels of intervention have on organic waste, soil health, and importantly the people with ID and their staff.
Modelling whitebait population dynamics
Four out of New Zealand’s six whitebait species are threatened or at risk of extinction. The government has proposed changes to fishing regulations in an attempt to arrest declines. This project, led by George Perry in the School of Environment, will model whitebait population dynamics to identify which management interventions will be most likely to reduce extinction risk, considering both government proposed regulatory changes and other more contentious options not considered by the government such as controlling trout populations.
PFAS monitoring in landfill leachate and wastewater
Poly- and per-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) represent a large family (4000+) of man-made chemicals that have been produced and used worldwide since the 1950s. Landfill leachate and wastewater treatment are expected to be one of the major point sources of PFAS contamination in NZ but supporting data is currently unavailable. This project, led by Melanie Kah in the School of Environment, will support the first monitoring campaign in NZ to address this important knowledge gap.
Using genetics to understand invasive species risk - establishing a global collection of common myna to identify invasion sources and inform control efforts.
Through repeated deliberate and accidental introductions, the common myna, a bird native to the Indian subcontinent, has established a firm reputation as an undesirable pest in many countries and is frequently the target of control and eradication measures. We have recently developed genomic resources for myna to support their investigations of the invasions in New Zealand and Australia. The project, led by Anna Santure and Annabel Whibley in the School of Biological Sciences, will establish a broader, active network of researchers and stakeholders to obtain a global collection of myna samples to infer the sources of these invasive populations, predict their future invasive capacity, and inform control programs.
Automated flow technology for personalised cancer vaccine synthesis
Our first seed funding project is being led by Dr Emma Davison (Chemical Sciences). The envisaged automated peptide flow synthesiser will optimise the efficiency of the manufacturing process, drastically reducing chemical and solvent waste.
Biofilm inhibition in drinking water distribution systems
This interdisciplinary research project, led by Dr Viji Sarojini, will investigate the potential of a recently developed system to deplete microbial biofilms commonly prevalent in water. These biofilms attach to the surfaces of drinking water pipes and then get released and degrade water quality. The team will test the efficacy and feasibility of their modular ultra-short antimicrobial peptide resin on these microbial biofilms.
Effects of health care on the environment
Dr Jon Sperry and Dr Viji Sarojini will lead this project, which aims to understand and estimate the effects health care has on environmental sustainability. They will engage a Bioscience Enterprise student to review relevant literature to identify and estimate the effects health care (in hospitals, surgeries, pharmacies) has on the environment and where sustainability research from the Faculty of Science could work to mitigate harmful effects.