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Robert Lillywhite

Associate Professor


Phone: 024 765 75060

Office (W): PB0.25

Office (GH): B010

Twitter: @robdlillywhite

Research Clusters

Plant & Agricultural Biosciences

Environment & Ecology

Warwick Centres and GRPs

Warwick Crop Centre

Food GRP

Vacancies and Opportunities

For PhD and postdoctoral opportunities, and interest in potential collaborations, please contact me at the above email address.

Research Interests

My principal interest is systems sustainability within the environmental, agricultural, food and healthcare sectors.

My research focuses on understanding the environmental outcomes that arise from current practices and how burdens might be mitigated to reduce human impact on the environment. My work considers resource use, everything from energy, and fertilisers to plastics, and the burdens that their use generates, so greenhouse gas emissions, pollutants and waste. I use environmental accounting techniques (life cycle assessment, carbon footprinting, mass balances) to examine the hotspots, trade-offs and impacts that occur within systems in order to identify reduction strategies.

I am currently working on a range of different projects including: the use of Black Soldier Fly to convert food waste into a sustainable source of insect protein (Innovate UK, GCRF); nutrient dynamics in soil (Defra); and sustainable use of PPE, and imaging in healthcare (NIHR).

My teaching focuses on the same environmental, agricultural, food and healthcare sectors. I teach under- and post-graduate students within the School of Life Sciences, Warwick Medical School and Global Sustainable Development (School for Cross-faculty Studies).

Research: Technical Summary

The environment and the damage caused to it by people is now a major global concern. While global warming and environmental change are the most prominent issues, others such as over-use of renewable and non-renewable resources, degradation of land, loss of biodiversity, waste, pollution are placing a huge burden on both the environment and society. My research encompasses all these issues under the term of systems sustainability but focuses on understanding issues within the disciplines of land use, agriculture, food production and healthcare.

Agriculture is important as we all have to eat. Unfortunately, the inputs used in agriculture (land, water, energy, fertiliser, pesticides and packaging) all have environmental burdens including the production of greenhouse gases, pollutants of water and land and waste. My research uses various environmental accounting techniques (carbon footprinting, life cycle assessment, water footprinting) to understand those burdens. We try to answer questions around the efficacy of fertilisers and how their burden can be reduced? Are organic fertilisers better than synthetic ones? Can be reduce fertiliser inputs and still expect the same crop yield?

Our diet is also under increasing scrutiny. We know that certain foods have high environmental burdens but also that they provide valuable nutrients (and support different livelihoods). Since true sustainability requires the reconciliation of economic, environmental and social values, systems thinking allows a holistic approach based on best overall outcomes rather than focusing on a single aspect of the problem. While red meat may have a high environmental impact compared to other protein sources, meat alternatives are often poorer in nutrients and higher in salt, while livestock farmers can be considered to be better guardians of the environment compared to vegetable growers. How do we consider the trade-offs in this statement?

Healthcare has similar dilemmas. While recognising that it has a large environmental burden, can we reduce it while maintaining clinical outcomes? The issues across diverse disciplines may appear quite different but actually they share many of the same problems which cannot be solved by pure environmental thinking, rather they need to address overall sustainability.