Constructive lifecycle assessment: implementing a responsible research and innovation approach for synthetic biology

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Alliance Manchester Business School


The doctoral research will explore the sustainability implications of innovation in biotechnology, specifically the case of synthetic biology products. The research focus will be on developing and testing a constructive and anticipatory approach to the assessment of synthetic biology application building on life cycle assessments (LCA). LCA is already widely used to assess environmental impacts throughout all stages of a product's life. However, the anticipatory application of LCA to emerging technologies in order to inform innovation policies and strategies, is a relatively novel approach. This approach would go beyond anticipatory LCA to also consider the wide range of societal, technical and environmental aspects of synthetic biology necessary for achieving responsible research and innovation (RRI) in the field. Drawing on multi-stakeholder reflection and deliberation, the research would explore the interplay between these aspects and how they can be integrated to inform governance and decision-making in synthetic biology, culminating with the development of a framework for constructive LCA. The research would build on research previously funded by EPSRC developing LCA frameworks for emerging technologies.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509565/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1885346 Studentship EP/N509565/1 01/10/2017 31/03/2021 Nicholas Matthews
Description We have developed and published a framework for constructive sustainability assessment (CSA) which aims to help innovators working on emerging technologies to integrate sustainability considerations into their work. This framework has been applied in practice in a research establishment and a leading synthetic biology company. Both organisations have benefitted from the application of the framework and we have also published another literature article reporting on the process and results of applying CSA in the company. In addition, we have gathered data concerning the challenges and opportunities for innovators trying to integrate sustainability considerations into their operations and plan to publish on this also.
Exploitation Route We hope that the individuals who have been engaged with the research, primarily innovators in the field synthetic biology in academic and industry contexts, will take forward the lessons learned from the constructive sustainability assessment processes we have implemented with them. We also hope that they will continue to embed sustainability considerations into their work.
Sectors Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Through this research we have worked directly with companies and academic researchers involved in developing the field of synthetic biology. We have undertaken sustainability assessments and run workshops with these innovators to help them to understand the sustainability implications of their work and how they might be able to integrate this understanding into their development processes. We hope that this will result in more sustainable outcomes from synthetic biology.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Societal

Title SustAssessR 
Description An integrated codebase for sustainability assessment using R 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2019 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact This codebase was used for and is made available alongside the following publication: Matthews, N. E., Cizauskas, C. A., Layton, D. S., Stamford, L., & Shapira, P. (2019). Collaborating constructively for sustainable biotechnology. Scientific Reports.