UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Urban Transitions

City street

What we do

Urban areas contain half of the world’s population, consume 70% of the resources and 1/3 of the energy globally (UNEP, 2013). It is expected that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Cities are also spaces of innovation and exploration.

Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Resources (ISR) are looking at understanding energy flow, materials and water in cities. They can then devise new pathways for a more sustainable use for resources in the future. For a more sustainable future, there will need to be a huge amount of change. This will include how cities are planned and how infrastructural, social and economic systems operate within them.

Our work

UCL ISR is at the forefront of the research in urban sustainable transitions. The work in cities expand over three main focus areas:

  1. Understanding urban food systems. We are working closely with Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other organisations to increase the circularity of the food system in cities. This is a crucial step to more sustainable urban areas.
  2. Characterising industrial and commercial waste in cities. Sectors traditionally out of the focus of sustainability initiatives, which in fact generate a large proportion of the waste produced by cities. Here we see potential to transition towards more circular use of resources.
  3. Mapping existing segregation, collection and waste treatment infrastructure and identifying main infrastructural gaps for the transition towards sustainable circular cities.

Two further aspects applicable to all three areas is the role of planning policy and new urban business models. Then, understanding the potential of those to shape more sustainable resource flows in cities.


Teresa Domenech
Lecturer in Industrial Ecology and the Circular Economy
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Photo credit: Joe Ciciarelli, Unsplash