Matthew Cotton

Professor, PhD, Research lead for Sustainable and Resilient Places

Accepting PhD Students

Personal profile

Academic Biography

Matthew Cotton is Professor of Environmental Justice and Public Policy, having joined Teesside University in July 2020. He currently leads the research theme for Sustainable and Resilient Places in the Institute for Connected Place Leadership.

Prior to working in Teesside, he held academic teaching and research positions in the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York, in Urban Studies and Planning at Sheffield University, in Sustainability at the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, and postdoctoral research posts at Exeter University, and Manchester University.

He holds a PhD in Environmental Science (UEA), MSc Social Research Methods (Teesside), and BA (Hons) International Studies with Political Science (Birmingham).

Summary of Research Interests

Matthew's research interests lie in the socio-political and ethical dimensions of sustainable development in both the Global North and the Global South. His published work covers cases in the UK, Germany, Spain, USA, Australia, Japan, China, Mozambique, Nigeria, Oman and Iran.

Primarily, his research and impact activities concern issues of public and stakeholder engagement in ensuring socially just sustainable development outcomes. This work relates to new technologies, policies and practices in the fields of energy, climate change, waste management and public health. 

He uses a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods and analytical techniques including: participatory workshops, Q-methodology, elite interviewing, stakeholder surveys, and discourse analysis of print and social media.

His published research includes the recent monographs: Virtual Reality, Empathy and Ethics (Palgrave), Nuclear Waste Politics (Routledge) and Ethics and Technology Assessment (Springer-Nature); and co-edited volumes Governing Shale Gas (Routledge) and Engaging with Environmental Justice (Brill). He has co-authored more than 50 peer-reviewed papers in leading international journals and edited volumes including: Ecological Economics, Science of the Total Environment, Energy Policy, Environment and Planning A, Climate and Development, Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health, Local Environment, Local Economy, Public Understanding of Science, Land Use Policy, Journal of Risk Research, Population and Environment, Environment, Development and Sustainability, and Energy Research and Social Science. 

PhD and Research Opportunities

Matthew is keen to supervise PhD students in projects related to:

  • Public and stakeholder engagement in policy-making
  • Innovation in social research methods (Qualitative methods, participatory methods)
  • Climate/energy policy
  • Responsible research and innovation
  • Sustainable development policy and planning
  • Environmental, social and/or health justice
  • Green growth and community development


Current PhD students

  • Jake Milner (2022-)Teesside University, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Law. Thesis topic: energy justice and social development in the Tees Valley. 
  • Sean Harris (2020-), Teesside University, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Law. Thesis topic: the lived experience of poverty in schools.
  • Godwin Aigbe, primary supervisor (2019-), University of York (now external supervisor), Department of Environment and Geography. Thesis topic: A comparative transnational study of gas flaring policy. 
  • Douglas Taylor, co-supervisor (2019-,  now external supervisor). University of York, Department of Environment and Geography. Thesis topic: Social license to operate in local energy governance. 

Completed students, awarded the degree of PhD

  • Dr M.M. Golam Rabbani, Department of Environment and Geography, University of York. Thesis topic: Decision-making and non-migration under conditions of environmental stress in Bangladesh.
  • Dr Talia Contreras, Department of Environment and Geography, University of York. Thesis topic: A historical institutionalist analysis of Mexican sustainable energy policy. (PhD awarded 2020)
  • Dr. Rob Hardie. University of Sheffield, Department of Geography. Thesis topic: Public-private partnerships for sustainable development in low and middle income developing countries: case studies of the Niger Delta (PhD awarded 2020)
  • Dr Fatima Ajia, (co-supervisor 2015-16) Public communications in the adaptive water utility, University of Sheffield, Department of Urban Studies and Planning (PhD awarded 2018)
  • Dr Karwan Taha (co-supervised 2014-2016) Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield. The significance of sustainability in future Erbil City planning (PhD awarded 2018)
  • Dr Clare Reger. Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield.Understanding the post-start up experiences of community-based energy schemes in the UK (PhD awarded 2017)
  • Dr. Ahmed Mahroos Al Saiari, (additional/replacement co-supervisor for specific aspects of research methodology and data analysis). Stakeholder participation inenvironmental impact assessment process between policy and practice: lessons from the Sultanate of Oman Awarded PhD from the University of Leeds, School of Earth and Environment (PhD awarded 2015)


Research Projects & External Funding

Current research topics, looking for collaborators

  • Just transitions for sustainable energy transformation
  • Sustainable food policy
  • Environmental justice - including public participation and stakeholder involvement
  • Climate adaptation and social sustainability. 


Current and recently completed externally funded research projects:

  • Evaluating community interventions to maximise health and well-being impacts of anticipatory climate change adaptations for extreme events. National Institute of Health Research, School of Public Health Research. 2023-2025 (CoI, led by Prof N. Adger, Exeter).
  • Increasing accessibility of affordable healthy food to adults living with Severe Mental Illness in Middlesbrough. National Institute of Health Research Programme Development Grant. March 2023-February 2024 (CoI, led by Prof A. Lake and Mr J. Dunne).
  • Growing Teesside’s Hydrogen Economy and Catalysing a Just Transition to Net Zero. Research England Development (RED) Fund. 2022-2027. (CoI, led by Prof N. Dawood and Prof T. Roskilly).
  • Engaging with intergenerational justice in radioactive waste management. Nuclear Waste Services Research Support Office - Applied Social Science Postdoctoral Fellowship programme – Citizen Participation. November 2022 – May 2024 (PI).
  • Towards the Tees Valley Energy Transition – Residential Decarbonisation and Skills Analysis. UK Community Renewal Fund, November 2021 – December 2022 (Co-I, led by Thirteen Group and Prof Natasha Vall).
  • Community Social Supermarkets: understanding how they shape access and availability to healthier foods in food insecure communities. National Institute of Health Research Applied Research Collaboration North-East and North Cumbria. Open Funding Competition (Co-I, led by Dr Claire O'Malley).
  • CarbonFreeports: Freeports as opportunities, not threats, for place-based decarbonisation of transport. EPSRC Decarbon8 Network fund, October 2021 – January 2023, (Joint PI with Prof David Tyfield, Lancaster University).
  • Harvesting the sun twice: Enhancing livelihoods in East African agricultural communities through innovations in solar energy. ES/T006293/1 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Global Challenges Research Fund: Sustainable energy and international development: beyond technology programme, April 2020 – March 2023 (Workpackage lead and CoI).
  • Committed to Communities: A Climate for Change. Perceptions of gas infrastructure, low carbon transitions and cultural heritage funded by Northern Gas Networks, March 2020-Feb 2021.

External Roles and Professional Activities

Associate editor Energy and Environment (2018-present, SAGE).

Editorial board member of Environments (MDPI, 2020- present)

Editorial board of Sustainable Futures (Elsevier, 2024-present)

External Research Collaborations

Matthew is happy to work with a range of external partners in the delivery of research and commerical activity including. He is working (or has previosuly) worked with partners including:

  • Nuclear Waste Services
  • Stockton Borough Council
  • Thirteen Group
  • Tees Valley Combined Authority
  • IPPR North
  • Northern Gas Networks
  • UK Nirex Ltd, and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
  • National Grid Plc.
  • The Toyota Foundation
  • Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • ICRAF World Agriforestry
  • CPGD Mozambique (Centre for Research on Goverance and Development)
  • CarbonPlusCapital
  • Arup

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Developing stakeholder engagement tools for the consideration of ethics in UK radioactive waste management policy, University of East Anglia

1 Oct 200420 Aug 2008

Award Date: 22 Jul 2009

Master, MSc Social Research Methods, Teesside University

30 Sept 200331 Aug 2004

Award Date: 1 Sept 2004

Bachelor, BA (Hons) International Studies with Political Science, University of Birmingham

30 Sept 200030 Jun 2003

Award Date: 24 Jul 2003


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