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Research Professor Janet Stephenson 


Research Professor

Janet Stephenson imageTel +64 3 479 8779

Research background

Janet Stephenson is passionate about collaborative, interdisciplinary research. Her research interests include indigenous resource management; the interconnections between people and their local environments; and the role of individuals and organisations in the transition to a sustainable future.

Janet has been Director of the Centre for Sustainability since February 2011. Her academic background is in sociology, planning and human geography. She joined the Centre as a Senior Research Fellow at the end of 2008, having previously taught in the Geography Department at Otago University from 2002–2008.

Janet is on the steering committee for the University of Otago research themes Catchments Otago, Otago Energy Research Centre, and Transport Research Network.

She is on the Advisory Board of INCLUDE, a Norwegian research centre for socially inclusive energy transitions.

She is also a member of the Coastal People: Southern Skies collaboration that connects communities with world-leading, cross-disciplinary research to rebuild coastal ecosystems.

Current PhD Students

  • Courtney Simpson - The role of carbon markets and investment in New Zealand’s transition to a low carbon economy
  • Carsten Dortans - Changes in household energy behaviours following adoption of solar generation
  • Sarah Harrison - Health and wellbeing impacts of climate change in South Dunedin
  • Ben Tombs - Does the Crown have obligations to act ahead of inevitable damage and loss due to climate change?
  • Jamie Metzger - The state of mauri of taonga held in museums
  • Kakau Foliaki - Energy Cultures in Tonga
  • Suzanne Claessen - Exploring children’s relations with local biodiversity through cartooning
  • Jefferson Dew - Demand response in agricultural electricity consumption
  • Will Stovall - Environmental philosophy in the Black Hills, South Dakota
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 Current projects

  • Kainga and Climate Change (2019-2024). Associate investigator in this project which is working with 7 rural Māori communities om how they and their descendants can better shape a future that builds community and environmental resilience in response to climate change. Funded by MBIE Endeavour Fund.
  • Dunedin Energy Study  (2015- ). A collaboration with Dunedin City Council, we produce annual reports assessing Dunedin’s annual consumption of different fuels, their main uses, and the related greenhouse gas emissions.

Current funded international collaborations

  • Flexeffects (2019-2022) examines how flexible electricity use among households can be achieved amongst Norwegian households, trialling various way to incentivise flexible electricity consumption. Funded by the Norwegian Research Council
  • Bioshare (2019-2022) explores bioeconomies as the ‘new oil’ for Norway and how benefit-sharing could be achieved in these new economies. Funded by the Norwegian Research Council.

Recent projects

  • Climate-Adaptive Communities (2018-19) Janet was Principal Investigator for this research programme funded by the Deep South National Science Challenge. The findings (including videos, webinars, a cartoon and policy advice) support local government staff to build community readiness to engage with coastal communities that are facing climate change challenges such as sea level rise.
  • Sustainable Seas (2017-2019) Janet was a member of the Science Leadership Team (SLT) on the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge 2017-2019. As cross-programme leader, she was responsible for the delivery of projects including how ecosystem-based management (EBM) fits into New Zealand’s legislative and policy frameworks, and an EBM case study trialled in Tasman and Golden Bays.
  • Demand Response in Agriculture (2017-2019) Janet's research in this National Science Challenge looked at the potential for dairy farmers with irrigated farms to become involved in demand response in the electricity system. PhD student Jefferson Dew  has a major role in this project.
  • Biosmart (2015-2018) Research on managing the transition to a smart bioeconomy. Led by Ruralis, Norway.
  • Vulnerable Communities and Climate Change (2017) involved a series of dialogues with stakeholders nationally about what issues communities were facing with climate change, and where research was required. Funded by the Deep South National Science Challenge, contracted to Motu.
  • Valuation Frameworks for marine decision-making (2016-2019) Janet was an Associate Investigator in this workstream of the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.
  • Green Grid - Janet was a key researcher in the Green Grid research programme. The research examined how NZ’s electricity grid can be managed in future with higher levels of renewable energy, distributed generation, and consumer uptake of new grid-connected appliances such as photovoltaics, electric vehicles and energy management systems. The programme was led by the Epecentre, University of Canterbury.
  • Energy Cultures 2  - Janet led the four-year interdisciplinary Energy Cultures 2 research programme. It addressed the questions: How best might NZ realise cost-effective opportunities for energy efficiency and savings in homes, small businesses and their transport? What do new transport technologies and practices offer for greater efficiencies? The results are summarised for policy makers:
    Energy Cultures Policy Briefs

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Selected recent outreach (reports, videos)

Dunedin Energy Study 2018–19. Cook, F., Stephenson, J., & Jack, M. (2020).

Electric vehicle uptake in Dunedin 2019. Stephenson, J., & Cook, F. (2020).

Reducing GHGs on farms: A summary of options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on New Zealand livestock farms. Hamill, B. & Stephenson, J. (2020). A report from the Coolcrowd research project.

Communities and Climate Change [Cartoon strip]. Stephenson, J. & Neilson, C. (2019). From the Climate-Adaptive Communities project of the Deep South National Science Challenge.

Community Development for Climate Adaptation: One neighbourhood’s perspective. [Video] Stephenson, J. (2019). From the Climate-Adaptive Communities project of the Deep South National Science Challenge.

Community Development for Climate Adaptation: Dunedin City Council perspective. [Video]. Stephenson, J. (2019). From the Climate-Adaptive Communities project of the Deep South National Science Challenge.

Council-community engagement for a climate-impacted future. [Policy brief]. Stephenson, J., Barber, J., Barth, J., Bond, S., Diprose, G., Heyd, C., Kirk, N., Laurie-Fendall, R., Orchiston, C., Saunders, W., Simon, K., Thomas, A., Vincent, N. (2019).

Council-community engagement for climate adaptation [Webinar]. Stephenson, J. & Bond, S. (2019). From the Climate-Adaptive Communities project of the Deep South National Science Challenge.

Estimating the Technical Potential for Residential Demand Response in New Zealand: A Summary of Results. [Technical report]. Dortans, C., Anderson, B., Jack, M., & Stephenson, J. (2018). From the GREEN Grid project.

Communities and climate change: Vulnerability to rising seas and more frequent flooding [Report]. Stephenson, J., Orchiston, C., Saunders, W., Kerr, S., MacMillian, A., McKenzie, L., Bartlett, M., Boston, J., Brankin, C., Clare, S., Craddock-Henry, N., Glavovic, B., Kenderdine, S., Kennedy, M., Owen, S., Paulik, R., Rodgers, R., Torstonson, S., Tuahine, H., Willis, S. (2018). Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, Wellington.

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In the Media

New Zealand wants to build a 100% renewable electricity grid, but massive infrastructure is not the best option. The Conversation (online) (30 July 2020)

There are many things we can be doing to be setting our economy and society into a sustainable future.  Video Interview Interest (online) (23 April 2020)

Covid-19 has nothing on what’s coming Op-ed in Newsroom (online) (20 April 2020)

Wellington Flooding a Covid Recovery Reminder Op-ed in Newsroom (online) (22 April 2020)

The cost of climate change on our coasts Panel interview on Radio NZ (19 Sept 2019)