Dr Sarah Royston

Senior Research Fellow

Global Sustainability Institute

Faculty of Science and Engineering
Areas of Expertise:
Consumption and change
Research Supervision:

Sarah carries out interdisciplinary research on sustainability and society, with particular interests in creative practices, everyday life, and institutional change. 

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Read Sarah's creative writing publications


Sarah's past work has explored narratives of how sustainable practices evolve across the life-course; the role of sensory experience in energy-related practices; how ‘non-energy’ policies steer energy demand; and how sustainability is governed in public sector institutions. Having also worked in the NGO sector, Sarah takes a cross-sectoral, impact-driven approach to research on social and environmental challenges.

Sarah completed a PhD in Social Policy at the University of York (2007-2011), with a thesis exploring individuals’ life-stories about climate change action. She was seconded to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology in 2010 to write a briefing on “Climate Change: Engagement and Behaviour”. In 2015 Sarah joined the DEMAND centre (Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand) as a Research Fellow, investigating how non-energy policies shape energy use.

Sarah joined the Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) in May 2019 to help bring expertise from the Social Sciences and Humanities into European energy policy-making. She currently works on the project ‘Environmental Impacts of Digital Services for Health and Wellbeing in the Home’, leading a work package on Environmental Impacts of eHealth.

Sarah also co-ordinates the GSI’s cluster on Creative Practices and Sustainability, and is currently working (with Lara Houston, and colleagues in the Cambridge School of Creative Industries) on a programme called “Sustainability Stories”, which explores the intersections of creative writing and environmental research. She is keen to build links with creative practitioners and researchers in this field.

Research interests
  • Intersections of sustainability research and creative practices, especially in writing
  • Sustainability governance in institutions
  • Everyday practices, sensory experience and know-how
  • In-depth qualitative methodologies, especially narrative and biographical approaches
  • Interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral research
Areas of research supervision

Sarah is happy to hear from potential PhD researchers in the social sciences whose theoretical and methodological interests align with those above. Particular topics of focus include:

  • Creative writing and sustainability 
  • Narrative and biographical methodologies in sustainability research
  • Applications of Social Practice Theories to sustainability issues
  • PhD Social Policy, University of York
  • MRes Social Research Methods, University of York
  • MA Sustainable Development, University of Leeds
  • BA Geography, University of Cambridge
Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

Grants and consultancy

  • Scoping Review: Impact of non-energy policies on energy systems (Co-I). Funded by UK Energy Research Council, 2016.
  • Reaching Fuel Poor Families (PI). Funded by Eaga Charitable Trust, 2015.
  • Evaluation of the Warm and Informed programme (PI). Funded by The Children's Society, 2015

Knowledge exchange

  • Reviewer, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology Horizon Scan on ‘Changing consumption to meet environmental goals’ , and expert contributor on ‘Environmental Housing Standards ’ POSTnote, 2021.
  • Royston, S. (2018) "Integrating energy demand reduction across the institution", workshop for health professionals, Sustainable Health and Care Forum, Birmingham, 21st November.
  • Royston, S. (2017) "Searching for Invisible Energy Policy", invited presentation to policy-makers, businesses and NGOs at workshop on "Capturing the Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency", organised by the Swedish Energy Agency and the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Stockholm, 13th December.
Selected recent publications

Royston, S., Foulds, F., Pasqualino, R. and Jones, A. (2023) Masters of the machinery: The politics of economic modelling within European Union energy policy, Energy Policy, 173, 113386.

Greene, M. and Royston, S. (2021) Can people talk about their past practices? Challenges, opportunities, and practical applications of biographic inquiry for geographic research on consumption . Area, 00, 1– 12.

Royston, S. and Foulds, C. (2021) The making of energy evidence: How exclusions of Social Sciences and Humanities are reproduced (and what researchers can do about it). Energy Research & Social Science, 77, 102084.

Royston, S., Selby, J., and Kesidou, S. (2020) Governing energy in organisations: Energy management professionals, marginalised practices, and the limits to change. Environmental Policy and Governance 1–16.

Cox, E., Royston, S., and Selby, J. (2019) From exports to exercise: how non-energy policies affect energy systems. Energy Research and Social Science.

Royston, S. and Selby, J. (2019) Non-Energy Policy, in “Energy Fables: Challenging Ideas in the Energy Sector”, edited by Jenny Rinkinen, Elizabeth Shove and Jacopo Torriti.

Wadud, Z., Royston, S. and Selby, J. (2019) Modelling energy demand from higher education institutions: A case study of the UK. Applied Energy 233, 23, p816-826.

Royston, S., Selby, J. and Shove, E. (2018) Invisible energy policies: A new agenda for energy demand reduction. Energy Policy 123, p127-135.

Recent presentations and conferences

Royston, S. (2022) “’Masters of the machinery’: The politics of economic modelling within European energy policy, Energy and Climate Transformations: 3rd International Conference on Energy Research & Social Science, Manchester, 23 June.

Royston, S. (2019) “Findings from the Energy-SHIFTS project”, ENERGISE Conference, Barcelona, Spain, 15 October.

Royston, S. (2019) “In Search of Invisible Energy Policy”, part of the In Search of 'Good' Energy Policy Research Networks Series, University of Cambridge. 29 January.

Royston, S. (2018) "The search for invisible energy policy", CENSES conference "Clean Energy for All", Oslo, Norway, 22 November.

Royston, S. (2017) "Changing consumption", invited presentation to the public, and panel debate, organised by the Wellcome Trust, at the Wellcome Collection, 15 June.