Environment & Sustainability: Climate, Agriculture & Liveability

Western’s campuses range across both Sydney’s second CBD, Parramatta, and its remaining peri-urban agricultural areas. Our campuses are living labs for innovation and collaboration through local, national and global research partnerships. While the University’s neighbourhood gives it a unique perspective on the interdependence of urban and agricultural systems, our research extends beyond the region and is oriented to finding novel responses to the grand challenges and impacts of global environmental change.

Research within the Environment & Sustainability Theme is wide-ranging, applied, and interdisciplinary, and concentrates on sustaining and managing diverse urban, agricultural and natural systems. Sustainability is a key focus of research across several units in the University, including the School of Education, School of Computer, Data and Mathematical Sciences, School of Science, School of Health Sciences, and the Institute for Culture and Society, among others.

Our research expertise within this theme relies on insights from the life and ecological sciences, as well as sociology, sustainable development, social ecology, environmental humanities, design, engineering, green IT, public health, education, law, and economics.

Theme Champions

Theme Fellow

Research Excellence in Environment & Sustainability

The Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment leads Western’s research into the Environmental Sciences and their application to sustainability. Drawing on the University’s unique proximity to areas facing the acute pressures of climate change adaptation and changing land-use, Western undertakes essential research into soil biology, ecosystem integration and function, sustainable agriculture, food security and plant and animal adaptations to a changing climate.

Researchers drawn from across the University work in inter-disciplinary teams at the cutting-edge of their fields and have access to large-scale, innovative research infrastructure to advance global research.

EucFACE Facility

EucFACE, the world's only Free Air CO2 Experiment in a mature, warm temperate forest ecosystem, is designed to predict the effects of rapidly rising atmospheric carbon dioxide on Australia's unique native forests.

National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre

The National Vegetable Protected Cropping Centre glasshouse research facility is among the most technologically advanced of its kind. The advances in protected and intensive cropping this facility enables are positioning Western Sydney University as a global leader in technology augmented food production.

Watch the video to learn more about the benefits and opportunities of protected cropping and how Western is partnering with industry to innovate horticultural practices.

Impact Snapshot

Regulation for Healthy Rivers

Coal mines have an impact on the waterways that surround them, but until recently, the government only regulated a handful of these impacts. In the Sydney Basin, this has led to hazardous levels of heavy metals in waterways – including waterways flowing through the Blue Mountains Heritage Area.

Associate Professor Ian Wright ’s work on the impact of coal mining on the Georges and Wollongambe Rivers has led to better regulation of wastewater discharge impacts from coal mining. To make this change, Ian had to work with government, industry and concerned community stakeholders, between whom suspicion, hostility and disengagement had built over a long period. By focusing on consensus and evidence, Ian and his team have made breakthrough changes to the health of Sydney's rivers.

One of these changes is improved water quality and aquatic life in the Georges River. The improvements in aquatic life include signs that sensitive freshwater macroinvertebrates (such as mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies) are returning to the Georges River to reaches that were previously contaminated by mining wastewater. Public reporting of contamination testing, required under EPA licence conditions, shows substantial reductions in contaminants such as salinity, cobalt, copper, lead, zinc and manganese.

Learn more about Ian's research:


Research Capacity Map

The Research Capacity Map (PDF, 244.1 KB) (opens in a new window) highlights key areas of research strength at our metropolitan precincts related to the Research Theme. If you would like to know more about a specific precinct or key capacity, please contact the Champions of this Research Theme.

Environment & Sustainability Report 2020-22

Environment & Sustainability 2020-2022 Report

The Environment & Sustainability Theme is proud to present a summary of activities and achievements within the theme throughout 2020-2022. Despite the intense difficulties over this period imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Theme continues to grow, expanding its reach and impact. The research-led discoveries, interventions and innovations covered in this report take as their focus the complex and intersecting factors which contribute to environment and sustainability outcomes. Most notably, this report showcases our partnership with industry and community and our collective impact on lives and communities in the field of environment and sustainability. Collaboration is at the core of Theme activity. We invite you to connect with our Research Theme Champions to find out more.

Download the Report (PDF, 5278.61 KB) (opens in a new window)

Research Strategy to Support the Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan

Throughout 2021, researchers from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, School of Business and the Institute for Culture and Society ran a series of workshops with the Aboriginal community, conservation and restoration experts, community organisations, and government to identify and prioritise research gaps for the Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan.

This resulted in the Research Strategy to Support the Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan which was finalised in 2022 by our researchers in conjunction with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment. The Strategy matches the long-term time frame of the Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan but also prioritises research for an initial 4 years of funding that is built on shared objectives arising from the workshops.

Download the Report (PDF, 3380.01 KB) (opens in a new window) (NSW Department of Planning and Environment)

Agri Tech Hub

The Hawkesbury Agri Tech Hub consolidates agriculture, STEM and innovation-themed expertise on the Hawkesbury campus. Working with TAFE NSW and the Department of Education, the Agri Tech Hub strategy provides opportunity for enhanced research, training and learning outcomes.