Dr Sarah Royston

Senior Research Fellow

Global Sustainability Institute

Faculty:Faculty of Science and Engineering

Location: Cambridge

Areas of Expertise: Consumption and change

Research Supervision:Yes

Sarah carries out interdisciplinary research on energy and sustainability, focusing especially on issues of policy, governance and social practice.


Visit Sarah's Academia profile


Sarah's past work has explored how sustainable practices evolve across the life-course; community-based action on energy vulnerability; the role of experiential know-how in energy-related practices; how ‘non-energy’ policies steer energy demand; and how energy is governed in public sector institutions. Having also worked in the NGO sector advocating for just and sustainable energy policies, 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 how individuals’ practices aimed at addressing climate change evolve over their life-course. She was seconded to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology in 2010 to write a briefing on “Climate Change: Engagement and Behaviour”, as well as providing research and capacity building consultancy to Friends of the Earth during the successful campaign for the Climate Change Act.

She then worked as a Research Associate on the RECCKN project at Keele University (Reducing Energy Consumption through Community Knowledge Networks), while volunteering for the Green House think tank. In 2012 Sarah moved to the Association for the Conservation of Energy as a Research Fellow, carrying out policy-focused research to support the organisation’s advocacy on issues of fuel poverty and energy efficiency.

In 2015 Sarah joined the DEMAND centre (Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand) as a Research Fellow based at the University of Sussex, and worked on the Invisible Energy Policies project, exploring how non-energy policies shape energy demand.

Sarah joined the Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) in May 2019 to work on the Energy-SHIFTS project (Energy Social sciences & Humanities Innovation Forum Targeting the SET-Plan), bringing evidence and expertise from the Social Sciences and Humanities into European energy policy-making. She has also contributed to the project ‘Economics of Energy Innovation and System Transition’ on improving the use of model-based evidence in energy policy-making.

Sarah currently works on the project ‘Environmental Impacts of Digital Services for Health and Wellbeing in the Home’ (EIDS), where she leads a work package on Environmental Impacts of eHealth, and co-leads a work package on Sustainable Research.

Research interests

  • Processes of energy and sustainability governance and policy-making, at various scales
  • The role of non-energy policies in steering energy demand; especially the impacts of digitalisation of public services
  • Energy and sustainability management in institutions
  • Energy in everyday life: practices that demand energy; practices of reducing energy demand
  • The role of different types of knowledge and know-how within these practices
  • In-depth qualitative methodologies
  • 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:

  • Sociological approaches to sustainability policy and practice in the health sector
  • Applications of Social Practice Theories to sustainability issues
  • Empirical investigations of 'invisible energy policies' in a range of sectors


  • 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

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.

Royston, S. (2015) "Know-how for keeping warm at home", book chapter, in Robison, R. (ed.) Sustainability: new questions, new answers. Cambridge: Global Sustainability Institute.

Royston, S. (2014) Dragon-breath and snow-melt: Know-how, experience and heat flows in the home. Energy Research and Social Science 2, p148-158.

Recent presentations and conferences

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.

Royston, S. (2016) "Invisible Energy Policy in UK HE", presentation at DEMAND Conference, Lancaster, UK, 13-15 April.