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Our sustainability cluster brings together research groups contributing to understanding and responding to the challenges our planet is facing.

Visit the listings of our research groups or our featured projects:

Agriculture at Otago | Ahuwhenua ki Ōtākou, Rangahau

A University of Otago Research Theme

Advancing profitability and environmental sustainability of primary industry in New Zealand

Farm scene with sheep We have extensive research capabilities that can be applied to improve risk mitigation, economic, environmental, and social performance of the primary sector.
Our focus is:

  • Enhancing agricultural productivity
  • Adding value to primary industry products
  • Sustainable and profitable environmental management


Carbon sequestration in New Zealand's southern fiords

Investigating and protecting the carbon storage potential of marine sediment

Researchers on a vessel in Fiordland extracting a marine sediment sampleOur research is investigating the natural ability of Fiordland's marine sediments to collect and store carbon that is fixed from the atmosphere by the surrounding rainforest and marine ecosystem. We will assess the vulnerability of this significant carbon sink to human impacts including forest and water management and changing climate and ocean conditions.

Our research findings will support the government to improve reporting of blue carbon (marine sequestration) in the New Zealand Greenhouse Gas Inventory. We will assess options to protect and possibly enhance the storage potential of this valuable natural asset.


Catchments Otago

A University of Otago Research Theme

Effective freshwater management through equitable and appropriate land strategies

Braided river in a valley We employ multidisciplinary approaches to share natural resources that consider environmental, social and economic outcomes.

We endeavour to understand community needs, facilitate information sharing, and encourage direct collaboration between Governmental Authorities, industry partners and freshwater catchment communities to help guide improvement of land and water management strategies in Otago and Southland.


Centre for Sustainability | Kā Rakahau o Te Ao Tūroa

A University of Otago Research Centre

Whenua ora, tangata ora: collaborative research for a sustainable future

Rugged sea coast The Centre for Sustainability is an interdisciplinary research centre working on local and global sustainability challenges. Our research informs choices, adaptations and transformations in policy and practice to enhance social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being.

Our research expertise includes aspects of kaitiakitanga, climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable food and agriculture, resilient communities, natural hazards, energy, mobility and biodiversity.


Climate and Energy Finance Group (CEFGroup)

A University of Otago Research Theme

Research in climate finance, sustainable investing, energy markets and carbon markets

CEFGroup membersCEFGroup is one of the largest  climate and sustainable finance teams in the world. We embrace interdisciplinarity and are focused on delivering policy and practitioner- relevant research. As one of only a few dedicated climate and sustainable finance research groupings in Australasia and Asia, we are strategically placed to influence efforts to finance the decarbonisation in these regions.


Coastal People: Southern Skies

A Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE)

Responding to climate change

Anne-Marie Jackson and Chris HepburnCoastal People: Southern Skies is a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) based at the University of Otago.

Our vision is flourishing wellness (mauri ora), of coastal social-ecological systems and communities.

The collaboration connects communities with world-leading, cross-discipline research to support transformative change to rebuild coastal ecosystems.

The focus is on the changes resulting from ocean warming and acidification, sea-level rise, and climate change. Research includes responding to the decline in culture, local economy, and well-being of coastal people in New Zealand and across the Pacific.


Food Waste Innovation | Auahatanga Parakai

A University of Otago Research Theme

Reducing the volume and impact of food waste

Odd-shaped vegetables spilling out of a paper bagFood Waste Innovation measures food waste, develops reduction strategies, applies innovative technology, and works to modify producer and consumer behaviour.

Our goal is to harness the best scientific expertise to provide effective solutions to food waste problems. We work collaboratively with stakeholders and supporters in the public and private sector.


Future Ocean Research Theme | Te Au Heke

A University of Otago Research Theme

Understanding human impacts on our marine ecosystem and physical environment

Blue cresting ocean wave The Future Ocean Research Theme (formerly Ocean Acidification) supports multi-disciplinary and collaborative research focused primarily upon the Otago shelf region but that is also applicable to New Zealand and the wider South Pacific region.

We use the development of biological and physical time series, controlled experiments, and modelling to establish the interactions between chemical, physical, and biological processes and the broader implications of change in the ocean around New Zealand.


He Kaupapa Hononga: Otago's Climate Change Research Network

A University of Otago Research Network

Fostering climate change research using interdisciplinary and co-created knowledge

St Clair beach He Kaupapa Hononga is a network of researchers committed to climate action including assessment, mitigation, adaptation and restoration. We are also committed to supporting collaborations between mātauranga Māori / mātauranga Kāi Tahu and western scientific knowledge.

Our network also works collaboratively with established research groups, He Kaupapa Hononga also supports postgraduate students studying climate change and the Otago Climate Change Postgraduate Network (OCCPN).


New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities | Te Pokapū Rōnaki Tāone-nui

A University of Otago Research Centre

Sustainable solutions to the economic, social, environmental and cultural development of our urban centres

Cyclists on an urban cyclewayThe New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities is an inter-disciplinary research centre dedicated to providing the research base for innovative solutions to the economic, social, environmental and cultural development of our urban centres.


One Health Aotearoa

A University of Otago Research Centre

An integrative approach to understanding, preventing, and controlling infectious disease

Hand reaching into a river One Health Aotearoa is an alliance of New Zealand's leading infectious diseases researchers committed to working together to address important health hazards in New Zealand, and beyond.

Many human infections are the result of interactions with animals and the environment. We have identified three key research themes to focus on: preventing emerging infectious diseases, ensuring healthy fresh water, and reducing antimicrobial resistance.

Mātauranga Māori is interwoven and underpins all of One Health Aotearoa's research. We recognise the close alignment between Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) and the One Health paradigm.


Otago Energy Research Centre (OERC)

A University of Otago Research Theme

Interdisciplinary energy-related research that contributes to more resilient and low carbon energy systems

Michael Jack and solar panels The OERC creates opportunities for high-impact and internationally recognised energy-related research via an interdisciplinary network of University of Otago researchers and their external collaborators.
This includes:

  • Incubation of new energy-related interdisciplinary research
  • Driving research on energy transitions toward a more resilient and low carbon future
  • The Creation of the 'UoO Energy Living Lab' to promote novel sustainable energy practices within the University of Otago
  • Providing a channel for energy-related external engagement at international, national and regional levels.


Polar Environments

A University of Otago Research Theme

Fostering the expansion of polar research

Polar landscape in the sun Our location has enabled a particularly strong connection with Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Our researchers are actively involved in Antarctica New Zealand and the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute.

A key objective is to mentor emerging researchers with an interest in polar studies, and provide them with support to develop knowledge and networks nationally and internationally.

Our programme includes:

  • Polar ice-ocean physics and modelling
  • Glaciers, ice shelves and ice sheets
  • Marine environments
  • Cold adaptation in plants and animals
  • Antarctic geology
  • Polar atmosphere and ionosphere
  • Marine chemistry


Sustainability Research at Otago | Rangahau Toitūtanga ki Ōtākou

A University of Otago Research Strength

Knowledgebase and networks offering a powerhouse of research expertise

Sampling kelp on New Zealand's southern coast Sustainability Research at Otago is a guide to our specialised research collaborations working towards a sustainable future.

Our multidisciplinary knowledge base and extensive networks provide a powerhouse of research expertise to find solutions to the planet's most pressing challenges.

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals guide our research. Our expertise in applied practice focuses on delivering a better future for people and our environment.


Sustainability featured projects | Rangahau toitūtanga

Kurī overlooked for ecological impact on early New Zealand

Karen Greig and Nic Rawlence with kurī skeletonThe arrival of humans, and the kiore (Pacific rat) they brought with them, has been well documented as bringing about major changes to Aotearoa New Zealand's environment, but what about their pets? University of Otago researchers believe kurī (Polynesian dogs) have been overlooked, and even erroneously exonerated by some scientists, for their ecological impact.

Ocean stressors: Sink or swim?

Linn HoffmanTemperature rise caused by climate change is a major threat to the ecosystems of the world's oceans, but it's just one of a range of problems affecting our seas.

“We can already see the impact of climate change locally,” says Associate Professor Linn Hoffmann. “We're seeing changes to the composition and resilience of various ecosystems, which are impacting the health of the oceans. There's overwhelming evidence that diversity is declining.”

One health for our health

David Murdoch thumbnailCOVID-19 has highlighted the impact of humanity's changing relationship with the environment. Infectious disease expert Professor David Murdoch says a One Health approach is needed to help ward off future threats.

“Increased urbanisation, overcrowded living conditions, increased global migration, and the increasing push of humans into animal habitat has created an environment that promotes the transmission of infections and made the COVID-19 pandemic possible.”

Power restructure needed to enhance Indigenous engagement in planning

Dyanna Jolly thumbImpact assessments have a patchy history of effectively engaging Indigenous communities and providing positive outcomes for their aspirations – University of Otago research is providing a starting point to improve the situation.

Spreading the mats of welcome and belonging

Rose Richards and colleagues on a beachThe Falafolaloa project will draw on the experiences of local Pacific communities to help welcome Pacific climate change refugees to Aotearoa New Zealand.

"As environmental conditions across the Pacific become increasingly difficult, further adaptation will be needed in the balance of these flows between homelands and diaspora” says Associate Professor Rosalina Richards.

Power probe: The price of inertia

Peter Gibbard standing outside with power poles in the backgroundDr Peter Gibbard's study into why people choose to switch electricity providers not only provides an interesting insight into consumer behaviour, but also has important real-world implications – a combination that speaks to the unique career of its lead researcher.

The sustainability crisis and the role of research

Janet Stephenson thumbnailAs the sustainability crisis deepens, business-as-usual is no longer an option, says Professor Janet Stephenson. She argues that we have to radically change how we produce and consume – and that integrated research must play a key role in that.

Research in our four academic divisions | Te rangahau ki ō mātou whare mātauranga e whā

View more research activity in our academic divisions:

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