New doctoral researcher: Jan Gerhards

26 April 2016

Jan Gerhards

Jan Gerhards has joined the International Eco-Cities Initiative as a new doctoral researcher working on urban sustainability frameworks.

He is carrying out his doctoral project as part of an ongoing collaboration between the International Eco-Cities Initiative and Bioregional, the social enterprise behind ‘One Planet Living’, one of a growing number of sustainability frameworks seeking to translate the principles of sustainable urban development into practice. The project is being supervised by Professor Simon Joss (University of Westminster), Dr Tony Manzi (University of Westminster) and Dr Matthew Wood (Bioregional).

Jan’s research aims to investigate the issue of standardisation vs. flexibility in urban sustainability frameworks. Such frameworks consist of generalised, replicable knowledge, and are used as a ‘standard’ for certification, yet must be applied across complex, varied and dynamic local urban contexts.

A number of trade-offs can therefore arise. When planning, flexibility may enable the capture of local knowledge and interests, but standardisation may better ensure sustainability goals are incorporated. In the certification process, standardised criteria may be more transparent, but flexibility may facilitate a relationship of guidance and support. In producing and measuring outcomes, flexibility may enable context sensitivity and effective embedding within organisations and communities, but standardisation provides comparability.

To evaluate the issue, the research draws on governance literature and uses a theoretical framework based on knowledge and legitimacy. By combining this with practice-based insights, the project aims to provide recommendations for the ongoing development of the framework.

Jan obtained his first degree in Land Economy from the University of Cambridge, where he participated in research and community projects on low-carbon buildings, and carried out his dissertation on well-being and climate change. After university, he worked in the renewable energy industry before moving into the education sector, developing a secondary science teaching programme aimed at engaging students with sustainability issues.

For more information on eco-city frameworks, see the Eco-Cities Initiative’s Tomorrow’s City Today report.


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