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Strathclyde Business School Strathclyde Business School

Going green for research

By James Bonner - Posted on 1 March 2018

Having signed up to attend a PhD workshop on ethnographic writing, James Bonner decided to align with his department’s commitment to sustainability and travel there by bike and train. In today’s blog he talks eco-travel and research.

I had signed up for an event at St Andrews University to learn about some of the techniques and uses of ethnographic writing in academic research, a method of studying people and cultures from the point of view and context of a specific group or individual.

An approach mostly used by anthropologists and sociologists, it’s perhaps not one generally associated with accounting research. However, I suppose it indicates the interdisciplinary nature of my work, and where I hope to include such techniques in my sustainability accounting research on water access in rural communities in Malawi.

Aligned with the university's Vertically Integrated Project on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (VIP WASH), part of the Scottish Government led Climate Justice Fund Project, my research seeks to explore roles and inputs to the project from a sustainability accounting perspective, where social, environmental and economic issues intersect across local, regional and planetary scales. In doing so it aims to understand and recognise some of the non-financial issues and themes that may be missed by 'conventional accounting' approaches to such a case study.

My department - Accounting and Finance - is participating in the Green Impact Scheme, which is also being undertaken elsewhere in the university, as well as by other institutions nationwide. With objectives of enhancing sustainability knowledge and improving environmental impact and social responsibility, supporting and promoting means of sustainable travel by staff and students is a core part of achieving accreditation from the scheme.

As a result, I thought it would be nice to use some alternative and more sustainable means of transport to travel from my institution, Strathclyde, to the event at St Andrews on the Scottish east coast - and, of course, incorporate using my trusty bike!

Understanding there were a couple of routes I could take, I had booked my bike on a train to Dundee on the day before the course. A light flurry of sleet overnight in Glasgow had clearly been heavier out with the city, and a fresh blanket of snow covering the countryside and mountains, coloured by some late afternoon sunlight, is a bonus to a train trip in Scotland at this time of year. Alighting at Dundee I had the choice to then cycle the 25 km to St Andrews, or take a connecting train to Leuchars and pedal the shorter 10 km to the town.

With the sun fading, and keen for the chance to spend a little time in Dundee, I opted for the latter. Leaving my bike at the station, I walked along to the newly built V&A museum on the waterfront which was looking especially handsome in the late sunshine as it awaits its opening later this year. One stop on the train across the Tay Bridge to Leuchars is a signposted and traffic-free cycle rout, a combination of separate cycle paths and shared pedestrian and cycle pavements. Away from the road traffic, this is a safe route to the town.

After staying in the town overnight, a crisp cold morning was an ideal opportunity to make use of having my bike with me, and I pedalled down to the old harbour before heading for breakfast and then to the university via the ‘Home of Golf’s’ famous ‘Old Course’.

Following a full day of insightful sessions at the workshop, I reflected on how I can potentially incorporate some ethnographically inspired research into my own work as I cycled back to Leuchars to catch an alternative train route via Edinburgh back to Glasgow. In doing so I met a fellow attendee from the day’s event at the station and, highlighting another benefit of travelling by public transport, we got the chance to talk about the course in relation to our individual research and work.

Arriving in Glasgow I then had the short cycle home – I had made it from St Andrews to my house in under three hours. Not only had I undertaken a more sustainable means of travel that aligned with my institution and department’s recent increased commitment to sustainability practice by staff and students, but I had enjoyed what also had been a fun and memorable experience.



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