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PhD Position in Sustainability Assessment of Cities at UNSW Sydney

A PhD position is available within the Sustainability Assessment Program at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW Sydney. The topic of the research is to create a quantitative modelling framework for assessing the absolute sustainability of cities by combining global multi-region input-output (MRIO) analysis with the ‘safe and just space’ (SJS) concept for human development. The model will allow assessment of the full supply chain environmental and social impacts of urban economic activities against biophysical planetary limits as well as social foundation thresholds defined in the literature. The project will advance sustainability science methodology and will greatly benefit worldwide initiatives for urban sustainability. Case studies on Australian cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra) will assess where interventions can be most practically, realistically and effectively implemented.

The 3-year research is designed to address current gaps in sustainability science by improve sustainability assessment methodology, quantifying environmental and social footprints of Australian and global cites and benchmarking performance against downscaled metrics of absolute sustainability and by delivering evidence-based policy recommendations for sustainable urban development in Australia.

The PhD research is part of an Australian Research Council Discovery Project. The researcher will make use of the Industrial Ecology Virtual Laboratory (, a collaborative e-research platform for environmental input-output analysis. The candidate will be involved in the construction of city-nested MRIO databases, the compilation and benchmarking of SJS indicators and the calculations in city case studies.

Typical questions that will be addressed include, for example: What are the main drivers of city footprints and how does changing consumption and trade patterns change city footprints? How can cities use the results and mitigate impacts (e.g. through supply chain initiatives, sourcing low-impact products for food, electricity, materials etc.)? What would be required to get the cities to levels of absolute sustainability? What role does the rebound effect play? 

Research Environment

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) is a founding member of the prestigious Group of Eight and one of Australia's leading research and teaching universities. UNSW is one of the top 100 universities in the world, with more than 59,000 students and a 7,000-strong research community. The PhD student will be integrated within the Sustainability Assessment Program at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering ( and will be supervised by Associate Professor Tommy Wiedmann (

Selection Criteria

Applications are invited from candidates with a strong tertiary qualification in sustainability assessment, industrial ecology, ecological economics, environmental science, environmental/sustainable engineering or related fields. Applicants are expected to have 1st class Honours (or equivalent ranking) in a suitable undergraduate degree and a top-ten grade in relevant postgraduate degrees.

Candidates with a working background in environmental footprinting, input-output analysis, life cycle assessment, urban metabolism, integrated assessment modelling or similar fields are particularly encouraged to apply. Candidates with a background in applied mathematics, computer science and engineering, or who developed good data and computational skills and are interested in sustainability, will also be considered

Essential Skills

The candidate should have a sound technical ability and experience working with quantitative data as evidenced by their prior work. Excellent data management, numerical and programming skills are essential. The candidate would ideally have some prior experience in the development or application of quantitative sustainability assessment methods, database management and visualisation. Experience in environmentally extended input-output analysis and statistical analysis is desirable. The candidate should have an emerging track record of academic publications in the field. Background knowledge in urban sustainability is advantageous.

The candidate should have excellent written and oral communication skills, an ability to manage research projects, and possess or show willingness to develop good working relationships with researchers in the field. The researcher will work independently and in collaboration with other researchers from UNSW and the University of Sydney. On-time delivery of project tasks, reporting and other deliverables of research, as well as proficiency in English, are essential. 

Scholarship Requirements

The research position requires the candidate to hold or obtain a national (e.g. APA) or international scholarship (e.g. Chinese Scholarship Council) that covers living costs. For further details on how to apply for scholarships visit: In addition, a tuition fee scholarship may be obtained from UNSW.

A limited amount of part-time tutoring may be undertaken by the student subject to positions being available at the School and to satisfactory research and tutoring performance. This income will be taxable.

Application Procedure

Enquiries and applications should be sent to Dr Tommy Wiedmann ( Applications must include a cover letter referring to the skill profile outlined above, academic transcripts, a CV and the names and contact details of two referees. Incomplete applications will be returned without evaluation. The deadline for applications is 31 January 2019. Candidates would ideally commence before 30 June 2019.


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