The costs of living in the material world

Researchers at the Essex Sustainability Institute, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Exeter Medical School and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit have recently published a paper exploring the externalities associated with high levels of material consumption. In the UK, poor diets, physical inactivity, loneliness and other artefacts of modern lifestyles cost an estimated £180 billion each year. The researchers conclude that there is a clear need to redefine what we think of as prosperity.

The paper is available open-access online here.

Development and Change in India: Workshop at Essex, 26th June 2013

Schoolboy in Ahmednagar district, India. Photo: Zareen P. Bharucha

The great Indian Growth Story is one of the most exciting of our times.  Socioeconomic change is altering the lives of 1.2 billion people. For communities who farm, fish, hunt or forage for a living, development brings poverty-alleviation, but also displacement, vulnerability, violence and loss. How do communities adapt and navigate the complex terrain of ‘development-induced change’?  To address these issues, the Essex Sustainability Institute is collaborating with researchers from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi on a series of research workshops. We invite you to take part in this exciting new collaboration, and bring your expertise to bear on the new research questions which will present themselves! Papers will be followed by round-table discussion and the event will be followed by dinner, courtesy of the Essex Sustainability Institute.

The event is free, but places are limited. Registration is required for both the event and dinner thereafter. To register, click here. For further information, please email: 

Facilitators: Prof. Steffen Boehm and Dr. Zareen P. Bharucha


Prof. Amita Singh, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University.Assessing development through the Ecosystem Well-being Index.This paper suggests that unless development policy is directed around the conservation and protection of ecosystems rather than protecting a few selected species,or diverting huge land areas into infrastructural projects , progress may neither be sustainable nor peaceful. Measures of progress towards development play an important role in measuring what counts as development and how much progress is being made. The Ecosystem Well-being Index (EWI) is a relevant and culturally-acceptable mode of evaluating progress towards development.  To explain its relevance, the paper analyzes land acquisition processes in India.

Prof. Sachidanand Sinha, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Development and Displacement of Land-based communities: The tribal population of Central India.

Projects such as mining, the constrution of new townships, urbanization and the development of major infrastructure projects has led to massive land acquisition during the last two decades in India. This paper will examine the magnitude of displacements of the agrarian populations in general and tribes in particular. It will examine the processes of land acquisition of the forest-based communities in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and the consequences it may have with respect to their livelihoods and survival.

Prof. Fiona Marshall, Science, Technology & Policy Research Unit and STEPS Centre, University of Sussex
Living on the edge: Perspectives on Sustainability in Peri-Urban India. 
As BRICS countries forge new development pathways, the pace and nature of growth in peri-urban spaces is unprecedented. Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation inevitably brings pro-poor benefits, generating jobs and resources that contribute to overall well-being. However the benefits remain very unevenly distributed and many of the costs to the environment and to human well-being remain little understood and under reported. This paper discusses a series of interdisciplinary research and policy engagement initiatives in India, which explored these issues. We have examined how a failure to address these apparently transitory issues results in a plethora of missed opportunities to benefit from rural-urban synergies, for example in waste management and provision of affordable and nutritious fresh food produce. Crucially, there is much to be learnt from peri-urban communities about adaptation in rapidly changing environments, which rarely contributes to the formal policy and planning making processes. Through empirical case studies we are currently exploring possibilities for a more positive relationship between the city and its periphery.

Download Flier-Final.pdf

Seminar: Wellbeing and Poverty in Marginalised Communities in India and Zambia

The Essex Sustainability Institute  is hosting  a new seminar series, Sustainability Contested, at the Wivenhoe Park campus. The seminars are open to staff, students and members of the public. The next seminar in the series will be held on the 26th of October 2012, in room 5S.4.11, 12:30 – 14:00 (bring your lunch). All are welcome, and attendance is free! Please spread the word! If you would like to meet the speakers on the day, please email Zareen Bharucha, at zpbhar (at) More on the first seminar below.

Title: Wellbeing and Poverty in Marginalised Communities: Zambia and India compared 

Abstract: This paper presents initial findings from ongoing interdisciplinary research into subjective and objective dimensions of wellbeing in two marginalised communities, one in India and one in Zambia.  It begins by introducing the research and the model of wellbeing it has developed.  It then describes the locations and some basic similarities and differences between them. Initial results are then presented. These give pause for thought to anyone who maintains that wellbeing is a purely individual or psychological matter.  Preliminary though the findings are, they clearly point to the fact that economics and politics are critical to people’s ability to achieve wellbeing.  This is shown both in the salience of structural differences such as wealth and gender/marital status in predicting levels of inner wellbeing, and in the importance of the ‘enabling environment’: policy and polity, security and insecurity.

Sarah White is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath and Director of Wellbeing and Poverty Pathways, funded by ESRC/DFID, 2010-2013 ( She is a sociologist of international development, who has worked previously on gender, race, child rights and religion, mainly in the context of Bangladesh.

Seminar: Is a Just Transition Possible?

The Essex Sustainability Institute  is hosting  a new seminar series, Sustainability Contested, at the Wivenhoe Park campus. The seminars are open to staff, students and members of the public.

The first seminar will be held on the 7th of September 2012, in Room 5A.303 at the Wivenhoe Park Campus, between 1:30pm and 3pm. All are welcome, and attendence is free! Please spread the word! If you would like to meet the speakers on the day, please email Zareen Bharucha, at zpbhar (at) More on the first seminar below.

Title: Is a Just Transition Possible? – A southern perspective on the global polycrisis and what happens next.

Abstract: In this seminar Prof Mark Swilling and Eve Annecke will discuss the arguments developed in their recently published book  Just Transitions: Explorations of Sustainability in an Unfair World (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2012). In particular they will address questions about what lies beyond the current global polycrisis and the implications for rapidly industrialising developing economies. Can we anticipate a ‘sixth wave’ of industrial growth? What will the next long-term development cycle look like? They will draw on Prof Swilling’s work on decoupling and global material flows for UNEP’s International Resource Panel as well as their joint local work in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where they have translated their thinking into practice in the building of South Africa’s first socially integrated ecologically designed neighbourhood. Connecting global transition dynamics to local prefigurative examples of sustainable living in practice has been the focus of their work over the past decade.

About the speakers:

Mark Swilling

Mark Swilling is appointed as Professor of Sustainable Development in the School of Public Leadership, University of Stellenbosch and Academic Director of the Sustainability Institute. He is responsible for the design and implementation of a Master’s and Doctoral Program in Sustainable Development that gets delivered at the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch, South Africa. He also heads up the TSAMA Hub, a new Center for the transdisciplinary study of sustainability and complexity at Stellenbosch University. The TSAMA Hub hosts a new transdisciplinary Doctoral Program that involves collaboration between seven ofStellenboschUniversity’s Faculties. Professor Swilling obtained his PhD from theUniversity ofWarwick in 1994.

Eve Annecke

Eve Annecke is the founding director of the Sustainability Institute (SI), a living and learning centre for studies and experience in ecology, community and spirit. She is co-founder of the Lynedoch EcoVillage, and pioneered the work in Learning for Sustainability Further Education and Training College. She leads a child-centred approach to building sustainable communities within the SI.  Her teaching and research at masters level focuses on sustainability, complexity, leadership and environmental ethics.

Download Mark-Swilling-Flier.pdf