Sustainable Earth 2018: 28 and 29 June

Researchers, businesses and community groups join together to make positive changes for the future of our planet

The global challenges posed by climate change, natural disasters and human impacts on the environment were among the key topics discussed at Sustainable Earth 2018 on 28 and 29 June.

Attendees at our annual conference heard from five keynote speakers on international topics such as disaster relief, satellite applications, climate change, biodiversity and communication, as well as world-leading researchers from the University on topics including plastic pollution, coastal change, soil erosion and human displacement.

The two-day conference also held a series of workshops, poster sessions and photographic exhibitions about research and initiatives ranging from changing the laws on ivory to manufactured soil, pulmonary rehabilitation in Kyrgyzstan to geothermal projects in Cornwall.

Thursday evening saw the launch of Professor Iain Stewart’s UNESCO Chair in Geoscience and Society at our inaugural Sterling Lecture.

A huge thank you to everyone who made Sustainable Earth 2018 possible

Without our attendees, keynote speakers, University presenters, workshop facilitators and poster displays, we would not have had the content for a truly interesting event.

Without our University events team, catering staff, technical support, photographer and film crew the event would not have been so greatly organised.

View tweets from the day

Check out the tweets from the conference on the hashtag #PlymEarth18

If you missed any of the event, or want to re-watch the presentations, all the videos will be available as soon as possible.

Keynote: Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB

Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB is a geographer working internationally as a senior advisor to governments, inter-governmental organisations including the World Bank and large private sector organisations.  

In addition, Vanessa has other roles including as a NED of the Satellite Applications Catapult, on the Advisory Board of Seraphim Space venture capital fund, a Trustee of the Royal Geographical Society, the Honorary Colonel of 135 Geographic Squadron Royal Engineers, Honorary Vice-President of the Geographical Association, a Patron of MapAction and she holds visiting professor positions at two UK Universities.

From 2000-2014, she was the Director General and CEO Ordnance Survey and from 2011-2015, she was the founding co-chair of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM). 

Keynote: Professor Virginia Murray

Professor Virginia Murray is the Public Health Consultant in Global Disaster Risk Reduction for Public Health England. Virginia qualified in medicine and has had a series of national and international roles as Head of Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards, London for the Health Protection Agency, as Head of Extreme Events and Health Protection and internationally including as a member and then as the vice-chair of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) Scientific and Technical Advisory Group 2009-2017. She is a visiting/honorary professor at several universities including University College London (2013 onwards), MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, Imperial College and King’s College, London (2004 onwards) and at the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health  (2017 onwards) and has published widely.

Keynote: Dr Chris Shaw

Chris has 15 years' experience in researching climate policy and climate communications. Prior to joining Climate Outreach as a Senior Researcher, Chris was a Research Fellow at the University of Sussex and the University of Oxford. 

Since joining Climate Outreach, Chris has developed climate change communication programmes and tools for national governments, scientific bodies (including the IPCC), NGOs, development banks and faith organisations. 

Chris also works with universities and research institutions from across the globe on multi-partner academic projects. Chris is an Associate of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and a member of the faculty at the School of Business, Management and Economics at the University of Sussex. His book The Two Degrees Dangerous Limit for Climate Change: Public Understanding and Decision Making (Routledge) was shortlisted for the 2016 Philip Abrams Memorial Prize.

Keynote: Dr Mike Maunder

Mike is a Board Director of Eden Project Ltd and Eden Project International Ltd. Mike has responsibility for Eden’s horticulture, science and professional training. This role includes responsibility for Eden’s dynamic horticultural exhibits and collaborations with universities and other research institutions. 

Mike trained in horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and studied plant systematics at the University of Reading with a PhD in conservation genetics. Mike has spent his career to date working in botanic gardens, museums and universities with a particular interest in species and habitat conservation. Mike has worked with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Florida International University, with extensive field work and consulting experience in the Caribbean, Sub Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

Find out more about Mike's role at Eden

Keynote: Baroness Bryony Worthington

Bryony is Executive Director for the Environmental Defence Fund Europe where she is responsible for its management and development. 

She plays a critical role in the execution of the work programme, which is currently focused on oceans, climate and energy. Baroness Worthington is an architect of the UK's Climate Change Act, and wrote the first report in the UK calling for the introduction of 'carbon budgets'. 

She was the brains behind the Friends of the Earth 'Big Ask' campaign and helped the UK government launch its first public awareness campaign. Since 2015 Baroness Worthington has been a Trustee at UNICEF.

Follow Bryony on Twitter


University speaker: Professor Gerd Masselink

Gerd Masselink is a Professor in Coastal Geomorphology with over 20 years’ experience in collecting and analysing coastal data, and over 100 papers published in peer-reviewed international journals. Gerd obtained his MSc in Physical Geography from Utrecht University in 1989 and his PhD in Marine Science from Sydney University in 1994. He was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Western Australia until 1998, and came to the UK in 1999 as a Lecturer in Physical Geography at Loughborough University. In 2005 he moved to Plymouth where he became a professor in 2007. He led the Coastal Processes Research Group from 2009-11, and was the Associate Head of School (Marine Science) in the School of Marine Science and Engineering from 2011-15.

University speaker: Professor Richard Thompson

Richard is the Associate Dean (research) for the Faculty of Science and Engineering, and Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth. 

Richard is a world-leading researcher on the topic of plastic pollution in the ocean, a topic he has studied for over 20 years. This has led him to; publish materials in prestigious journals such as Nature; write reports for the United Nations; and advise the UK House of Commons. One of his key papers ‘Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic?’, has been cited over 1,000 times. In the 2018 New Year Honours List he was made an OBE for Services to Marine Science, related to his research on micro-plastics. 

Richard is also researching the modification of coastal engineering to enhance biodiversity and the ecology and conservation of shallow water environments.

University speaker: Dr Sana Murrani

Sana is an urban theorist and experimental architect. She is the Associate Head of School for Graduate Affairs in the School of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Plymouth. 

Dr Murrani is also founder of the Displacement Studies Research Network, the network seeks to provide a voice for the displaced, and facilitates a platform for global multi-disciplinary research. Sana’s studies began at the University of Baghdad, before moving to Plymouth to undertake a PhD. 

Today her research uses urban theory to investigate the transient conditions of marginalised and displaced populations. Sana participates in international conferences and workshops, is a reviewer for Leonardo Reviews, and recently became a member of the ESRC Global Challenge Research Fund Peer Review College. 

Follow Sana on Twitter


University speaker: Professor Will Blake

Will is Professor of Catchment Science in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth, and Director of the Consolidated Radioisotope Facility

Will’s research focuses on the impact of human actions and natural disturbances in river basins on food, water and energy security; particularly studying the dynamics of sediment, from soil erosion, into the siltation of aquatic environments. 

Based on expertise gained in association with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Will has become a specialist in the application of sediment tracing technology. Currently Will is leading the NERC funded ‘Jali Ardhi’ (‘Care for the Land’) project, researching the environmental and social impact of soil erosion in East Africa.

Connect with Will on LinkedIn.


Sterling Lecture speaker: Professor Iain Stewart

Iain is Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth and Director of its Sustainable Earth Institute. 

His long-standing research interests are in interdisciplinary investigations of geological hazards (earthquakes, volcanism, tsunamis) and abrupt environmental change, and more recently in the communication of ‘contested geoscience’ to the public. 

As part of his geo-communication, he regularly presents earth science programmes for BBC television, including Earth: The Power of the Planet; How Earth Made Us, How To Grow A Planet, The Rise of the Continents and, most recently, Planet Oil.

Follow Iain on Twitter

Programme: Day 1

  • Thursday 28 June 2018
  • Rolle Marquee, University of Plymouth

13:15 Registration, networking and coffee

13:45 Conference welcome and introduction

14:00 Keynote 1: Baroness Bryony Worthington

14:45 University of Plymouth speaker: Professor Richard Thompson - Plastics and the environment

15:15 Tea and coffee

15:30 Marketplace session 1

16:15 University of Plymouth speaker: Professor Will Blake - Soil erosion in East Africa

16:45 Keynote 2: Dr Mike Maunder - Regenerative Futures: New conservation opportunities in the Anthropocene

17:30 Close of conference

The Sterling Lecture 

Selling Planet Earth: Translating geo-science into global action

Speaker: Professor Iain Stewart - UNESCO Chair in Geoscience and Society

18:30 Arrival and registration

19:00 Public lecture

20:30 End of lecture

Programme: Day 2

  • Friday 29 June 2018
  • Rolle Marquee, University of Plymouth

8:30 Registration, networking and coffee

8:55 Welcome back

9:00 Keynote 3: Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB - The Measuring and Monitoring of Sustainable Life: the role of geospatial information today and into the future

9:45 University of Plymouth speaker: Dr Sana Murrani - Displacement and Emplacement of Spatial Heritage

10:15 Tea and coffee

10:30 Marketplace session 2

11:15 Marketplace session 3

12:00 Lunch with poster session

13:00 Keynote 4: Professor Virginia Murray - The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: implications for disaster risk management, development, climate and health at the local, national and global scales

13:45 University of Plymouth speaker: Professor Gerd Masselink - Extreme storms and recovery: the importance of monitoring for sustainable coastal zone management

14:15 Tea, coffee and biscuits

14:30 Marketplace session 4

15:15 Keynote 5: Dr Christopher Shaw - Communicating climate change

16:00 Closing remarks

16:30 End of conference