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Could a project-based approach to ESG be used to leverage investment within the Affordable Housing sector?

   Department of Geography and Planning

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  Dr Gareth Abrahams, Prof Alex Lord  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


In the UK there has been growing demand for UK pension fund investors to take account of a company’s sustainability profile rather than focusing almost exclusively on its profit and loss profile. Companies able to demonstrate a strong and balanced sustainability profile are now able to access larger loans at much lower rates of interest, providing them with a distinct economic advantage over their less sustainable competitors. This shift in the credit process has resulted in a demand for robust sustainability reporting tools.

It is now widely accepted that this should be achieved through, so-called ‘ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) reporting’. It is also widely accepted that the structure of these ESG reports should align with the United Nation’s Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At present, there are many different ESG reporting tools in use. Some of these are formed ‘in-house’ by investor companies, whilst others are produced by companies and working groups within a given sector.

The role of effective ESG reporting is fundamental to many charitable companies operating within the affordable housing sector and their ability to deliver genuinely affordable housing that also meets the government’s housing supply and decarbonisation targets. In 2019, the ESG Social Housing Working Group was established with the aim of developing a standard ESG reporting tool that could be used across the sector as a whole. In Autumn 2020 the group published a list of 48 factual and descriptive assessment criteria as the basis for this tool.

The project


In 2020 Dr Abrahams established an extensive 5-year research and knowledge exchange project with one of the largest affordable housing companies in the UK. One strand of this project focuses on the ESG reporting tool and opportunities to develop, what Abrahams has described as, a ‘project-focused’ approach to ESG reporting. This proposal will be used to complement rather than replace the work undertaken by the ESG Social Housing Working Group. It will do this by providing a more robust mechanism for reporting against the 20 descriptive criteria identified by the group.

This research project will aim to build on the initial piece of work developed by Dr Abrahams to answer the following research questions:

•      Could this project-based approach be integrated into the criteria-model and if so, would it be supported within the affordable housing sector and by key investment companies?

•      How would this project / criteria approach to ESG reporting compare with the existing model in terms of leveraging investment through the largest Pension funds in the UK?

•      Could this combined approach be rolled out across the sector/sub-sector more broadly?

•      How might this insight extend across other sectors / sub-sectors?


What will the PhD researcher do?

 The successful PhD researcher will work closely with Dr Abrahams as part of a broader research and industry stakeholder team. They will be part of a new research centre within the School of Environmental Sciences called the ‘Changing Streams Research Centre’. This centre has developed out of strong links with in industry and the work undertaken through the not-for-profit company, Changing Streams CIC (

To respond to the research questions, it is expected that the successful candidate will:

·        Interview key stakeholders working in influential positions within affordable housing companies and investment companies.

·        Liaise with industry stakeholders to obtain data that can be used to appraise different funding options / outcomes for the two kinds of ESG reporting tools

·        Identify and analyse data generated by others associated with ESG reporting


This project is highly innovative and will feed into some of the most pressing debates within the field of sustainability and the affordable housing sector more specifically. Given the novelty of this project and its timely contribution to the field, the successful PhD researcher will be expected to contribute to the dissemination of the findings from this project. This will be through their contribution to academic papers on the subject, but also by attending and presenting on progress in workshops with industry leaders.

As such this project is ideally suited to a PhD researcher who wants to undertake research that is connected into real-world practice and would like to engage with key figures working in the industry.

Candidates should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor Degree, and Masters Degree with Merit/Distinction, or equivalent in a discipline/s focused on: the built environment, sustainability, human geography or financial investment.

For enquiries please contact Dr Gareth Abrahams on: [Email Address Removed]

To apply for this opportunity, please visit: and click the 'Ready to apply? Apply online.'

Funding Notes

This competitive funded studentship supports 3.5 years of full-time studies (a part time option will be considered for the right candidate) , covering UK fees (, annual stipend of £15,843 and a research training support grant of £5000 for the duration of the studies. If you are an international student, you will need to cover the differences in fees.
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