School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing

Researching a Net Zero future: A day in the life of a Leeds Sustainability Institute Professor

In this post, Professor David Glew, Director of the Leeds Sustainability Institute (LSI) and Head of Energy Efficiency and Policy, tells us about a day in his life at Leeds Beckett – from presenting the findings of a £3 million Government-funded research project to collaborating with international academic partners and discussing the role of art in sustainability awareness as part of Leeds23.

Professor David Glew

I wake up at 5:30am in a hotel room, (which constitutes a lie in!) in London as I’ve been presenting the results of our £3 million DEEP retrofit research project at the Building Centre’s Retrofit23 Exhibition, which we are the official academic partners for. The event was our first chance to present the results - we met with our collaborators (University of Salford and Loughborough University) and presented our results together to an external audience. It was a great chance to prepare for the largest dissemination day LSI have ever hosted, which will be a full presentation of all the DEEP project results to over 150 peers, industry and policy makers.

The Deep Retrofit Project

A still from the DEEP retrofit project video, displaying the video title

A brisk walk to Kings Cross (I much prefer to walk than taking the tube) and then breakfast and the train back to Leeds. Not being able to waste any time of course I review a bid on the train that we are hoping to submit to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) later this month in collaboration with UCL and University of Nottingham to investigate air leakage in the UK’s homes.

Amazingly the train is on time, so I arrive just in time to chair a morning meeting with my team colleagues at our offices in Northern Terrace. After my team meeting. I head over to meet visiting professors from Massey University who are visiting the School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing to discuss collaboration opportunities.

The event brings together researchers from across the school and is a chance to find common research findings and interests. However, as the discussions are so interesting, the event over-runs and I need to dash off to meet my next appointment - to be on a public panel in City Square to discuss the role of Art in achieving greater awareness of sustainability issues.

The panel session is focused on a brand-new art installation called “making a stand” in City Square (just opposite the train station) which is part of the Leeds23 program of events which Leeds Beckett University is sponsoring. It consists of a series of timber planks erected upright to create an immersive piece of art (i.e., you can go in and touch the wood). This is to provoke people to think about sustainable building materials, the circular economy and to remind people that timber comes from felling trees which is extracting resources from nature and so we should cherish all the natural resources we use.

The Leeds23 Making A Stand art installation in Leeds City Square - image by Tom Joy

Making a Stand - image copyright Tom Joy

It is attended by several dignitaries including Councillor James Lewis, Leader of Leeds City Council, who gives an introductory talk for the event, as well as individuals and organisations in the city with an interest in sustainability issues.

It is a good chance to renew old and make new connections and I discuss with Gary Bartlett (Chief Officer, Highways and Transportation at Leeds City Council) the fact that one of the LSI’s network of air quality and temperature sensors is actually located in amongst the trees where the artwork has been erected. I discuss how my colleague Dr Jim Parker, who is Head of Sustainable Urban Environments at LSI, could use his network of sensors to track the before and after air quality around their road enhancement schemes around the city.

The event means there is no time for me to join the office ritual of going for lunch together every Thursday, so it’s a less satisfying “meal deal” for me today. The afternoon leaves me to catch up on the day’s emails and meet one on one with a couple of my researchers to discuss their research projects. One is looking to publish a paper on the benefits of retrofitting homes in reducing condensation risks, and the other putting the final touches on a tool of the UK housing stock energy consumption we are working on with the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC). The tool will allow people to play at being prime minister for the day by choosing their own retrofitting policy, the tool will then calculate based on their decisions how much it cost and how long it took for them to achieve net zero homes. We are hoping to finish the tool so that it is ready to test the political party manifestos later in the year and be published as a free to use website later in the year.

My final commitment for the day is to attend talks by Climate Action Leeds to celebrate the opening of the Imagine Leeds office space, which groups in the city can use to promote and facilitate their sustainability activities and events. Talks were given by dignitaries including Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, and Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation at the University of Leeds.

Having been away from home for over a day and a half and my travels catching up with me, I decide it’s time to drive home to make sure I can have dinner with my kids and enjoy the final few hours of this glorious June weather with them in the garden.

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