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Centre for Research into the Organization of Work and Consumption (CROWC)

Organizing for sustainability and work and consumption

CROWC was established to research more sustainable ways of organizing work and consumption. Both need to be considered together if we want a future that is:

  • Ecologically sustainable – by producing and consuming goods and services in a way that doesn’t damage our environment.
  • Socially sustainable – with work that is well paid and meaningful, enabling a good standard of living for everyone, producing goods and services we can take pride in.
  • Economically sustainable – recognising that business models need offer long term organizational viability and to contribute to the locations where goods and services are produced and consumed.

The models of organization taught and promoted in traditional business schools for the last century have proven themselves to be unsustainable on all these fronts. CROWC is committed to research that seeks to understand why so much of our economic activity is unsustainable and crisis prone, and to develop and promote more sustainable ways of organizing work and consumption.

Our research is aligned with ARU’s strategic research priority of Sustainable Futures, and aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals:

Why work and consumption?

Work and consumption are two sides of the same coin, but too often they are treated as though they were separate functions. In most business curricula, consumption is covered in modules on marketing and consumer behaviour, and is not considered in relation to organizational behaviour, employment relations, or the sociology of work.

In reality, it is impossible to separate work and consumption, and they are being driven ever closer by a range of factors.

Our research focuses on two main areas:

An 18-year-old today is likely to be working until at least 67, perhaps longer. Fifty years is a long time if we consider the technological, economic, cultural, political and social changes we have experienced since the 1970s. Our research explores the future of work in a number of ways:

  • Understanding the relationship between space and work as we ‘modularise’ work. Open-plan offices, hot-desking, co-working, and digital nomadism have all changed the dynamics of how people work and where they work, often in complex ways that intersect with social identities like gender.
  • Modular manufacturing systems, robotics, and 3D printing are similarly transforming manufacturing work as we move towards Industry 5.0. Through the Horizon EU Up-Skill project, researchers in CROWC are collaborating with businesses large and small, from across Europe, to understand the skills implications for workers in companies adopting Industry 5.0 technologies.
  • Decarbonising SMEs – through collaborative projects funded through European Regional Development grants, members of CROWC have worked with small- and medium-sized enterprises to understand the potential to decarbonise while making efficiency savings by adopting more effective technologies and leveraging data.
  • Circular economy – through projects like BLUEPRINT a Circular Economy, members of CROWC have worked with social enterprises, and partners in local government, to move towards a more sustainable, circular economy model of organizing that moves us from refuse, through recycling, to repairing and reusing materials, and reducing our impact on the environment.

It is hard to predict what the future of work will be like, not least because our expectations, and the decisions we make on the basis of them, shape the way that future unfolds. What we do know is that technology and digitalisation are playing ever more significant roles in both work and consumption:

  • Digitalisation is transforming retail employment into delivery and logistics and changing the way we work, consume and think of our cities.
  • Online platforms have created entirely new ways to manage employment relationships and blurring the boundaries of the status of workers.
  • Automation has transformed work in manufacturing, with humans working alongside robots.
  • AI is transforming the delivery of services, raising questions about the long-term security of employment in professions like law, academia, accountancy, and even the creative industries.

  • The service sector now accounts for over 90% of employment in the UK, a pattern seen across many global economies. Work in services often involves direct interaction between workers and consumers, in ways that manufacturing or agriculture rarely do.
  • Demographic and economic changes are changing how we think about work, career, and retirement.
  • With more young people than ever going to university, changing education levels are impacting on orientations to work and expectations of what a ‘good job’ looks like. It also means that many more workers are entering the workforce with a debt to service, reducing their spending power as consumers.