PhD Student

University of Oxford

I am a sustainability professional currently studying for a DPhil in energy and environmental policy at Oxford. I’m funded by the UK Energy Research Centre, and am a member of the Lower Carbon Futures group in the Environmental Change Institute.

I am a College Lecturer at Keble College, Oxford, teaching Environmental Geography on the Geography undergraduate course. You can find more information on the Keble geography website as well as here and here. I am also a fellow of the Emerging Leaders in Environmental and Energy Policy Network (ELEEP).

Prior to starting my PhD in October 2015, I was responsible for running three European funded grant programmes targeted at reducing CO2 emissions in SMEs through behaviour change and investments in energy efficiency. My research builds on this experience by investigating the role of SMEs in the transition to a low carbon economy.

Here is a summary of my PhD research:

My research examines energy practices and policy targeted at Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the UK. The thesis is made up of five papers, the first four of which use practice theory to provide insights for SME energy demand policy at a different level of scale. Having demonstrating its potential, the fifth and final paper explores how practice theory might achieve greater influence within energy policy at the national scale.

Starting with the practice of policy implementation, the first paper uses an in-depth case study of a UK behaviour change project, drawing on practice theory as a framework for understanding the interrelations of working practices among various stakeholders. It proposes that while a practice approach can help to illuminate the dynamics of policy implementation, it might also be used by policy practitioners themselves in future.

The second paper contributes to literature on the role of ‘middle actors’ in engaging with SMEs on energy. Interviews with low carbon advisors are added to ethnographic insights to develop an account of the practice of business advising in the UK. The paper explores how policy might be designed to better equip middle actors to help SMEs contribute towards meeting the UK’s carbon targets.

The third paper takes an alternative approach towards understanding decision-making by SMEs. In a literature which is dominated by the barrier-model and economic approaches, this paper seeks to understand how energy is consumed, conserved and managed within the context of everyday working practices. It finds that energy investments are motivated by a range of factors, with finance being only a part.

The fourth paper looks beneath the SME as a focal unit, at a practice in depth. Working from home is often imbued with the hope of delivering energy savings and is a target of energy conservation policy for SMEs. However its net effect on energy demand depends on various factors. The paper shows that a practice approach can help identify aspects of the practice such as flexibility which may be valued by the energy system.

Having demonstrated the utility and application of practice theory at different policy levels, the thesis concludes by asking how practice theory might gain more policy influence at the national level. The final paper explores this question by examining the recent influence of behavioural economics and ‘nudge’ approaches in policy.

Generating energy policy which fully incorporates SMEs into the low carbon transition is a challenge with multiple dimensions. The thesis concludes by arguing that practice theory offers one valuable dimension in meeting this challenge, and identifies a role for energy researchers in generating an evidence base from which policy makers can draw.