Wallking the walk on carbon reduction in TIDAL N+

With regard to the AT sector, it is probably fair to say that little attention is paid to the impact it’s products and services have on the environment. There is huge potential to do better.

It is widely acknowledged that the Climate Emergency is also a health emergency[1]; and is likely impacting with particular severity on people in need of assistive technologies. The majority of these people live in lower and middle income countries, and most do not have access to these technologies. This alone makes life hard, and the impacts of global warming will likely further exacerbate this inequality – for instance, climate change is driving mass movements of peoples and those in need of AT for mobility or communication are at a significant disadvantage in managing the consequences of these dislocations. Surprisingly little attention is being made to developing AT that may accommodate our changing climate. We know for instance that heat-related discomfort is a major problem for most amputees, and likely to be made worse by rising temperatures. Yet, there has been very little research in this area.

With regard to the AT sector, it is probably fair to say that little attention is paid to the impact it’s products and services have on the environment. For instance, some AT devices, made of energy intensive materials such as aluminium alloys, but costing little to produce, are treated more or less as consumable items. There is huge potential to do better. Research into the repair of AT is almost non-existent.

Thirdly, as scientists and engineers we should be driven by the data. If the UK is to meet its commitments from the Paris Agreement, the science suggests the UK has less than 4 years worth of its carbon  budget left, if it continues to emit at current rates[2]. Academics are traditionally high emitters, due in part to travel to conferences and meetings, and hence have the potential for rapid reductions.

Finally, a recent review article analysed the reasons all the efforts to date have failed to stop the growth in global emissions[3]. It concluded that the governmental and other structures have been unwilling to take sufficiently strong action, and that bottom-up approaches are urgently needed to change behaviours.

So, in summary we have a moral obligation to consider this issue, and the capacity to ‘walk the walk’ in the project.


What are we planning to do?

  1. Drive change in the AT sector

As part of Tidal we will have a focus on responsible engineering. Our agenda setting workshop kicking off this theme will bring together design-driven learning from the GDI Hub’s AT2030 programme, Norway’s world-leading AT system, European Innovation Partnerships on raw materials & circular economy, alongside design innovation expertise from the Institute of Making (Mark Miodownik) and EPSRC Redistributed Manufacturing in Healthcare Network+ (Wendy Phillips). We hope that this will seed ideas for innovative research projects to better enable the AT industry to manage their impact, for example.

  1. Change the way we research

This is a challenging problem. Network Plus projects are designed to bring communities together and inevitably these activities will be associated with a carbon footprint. The first step is to gather the data to allow us to understand the carbon footprint associated with how we deliver our planned activities.  We can also take some simple steps that we already know will reduce our carbon footprint.

How are we going to do this?

Driving change

  • One of the evaluation criteria for applications for TIDAL feasibility project funding is how the research team will ensure demonstrate responsible research e.g. sustainable research practices, measuring and limiting the carbon footprint of their project.

Taking simple steps that we know will reduce our carbon footprint

  • We will make TIDAL N+ a ‘no fly zone’: we will not fund any air travel related to TIDAL N+ activities other than in exceptional circumstances, where there is genuinely no viable alternative and/or being unable to fly would disadvantage (and not merely inconvenience) someone in terms of their ability to participate in network activities.
  • We will meet online unless there is a good reason to meet in person.
  • We will supply vegetarian and/or vegan catering only at TIDAL events.
  • Making sure we switch off when not in the office or using our IT, whether at home or in our institutional office. An example of the impact of this is the carbon emitted by UCL buildings over the Christmas break: on Christmas Day, UCL buildings emit the same CO2 as 100 flights to New York. Over the 2021 Christmas period, we helped UCL save 173 tonnes of carbon through switching off items that would have otherwise been left running. That’s equivalent to planting 2,883 trees.

Data gathering

  • We will record the carbon footprint of any travel by the PI and Co-Is in connection with TIDAL N+
  • We will estimate the carbon footprint of in person events that we hold including the venue, catering and delegate travel.
  • This will help us identify the carbon impact of what we are doing, and consider the priorities for trying to reduce it.  
  • We don’t have the data to assess our individual impacts of switching off.

What else?

  • What are you doing on your research projects to limit your carbon footprint?
  • Tell us if you think we could do better and how.


1.            Romanello, M., et al., The 2021 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: code red for a healthy future. Lancet, 2021. 398(10311): p. 1619-1662.

2.            Campbell, I.R., UK's share of the global carbon budget will be used up in 3.3 years. BMJ, 2021. 374: p. n2391.

3.            Stoddard, I., et al., Three Decades of Climate Mitigation: Why Haven't We Bent the Global Emissions Curve? Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol 46, 2021, 2021. 46: p. 653-689.