Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs is a Senior Research Associate in Sustainability at Imagination Lancaster. She is an interdisciplinary researcher at the intersection of environmental sustainability, energy demand, design, and lifestyle change. Currently she is focused on working with organisations to develop new ways to intervene in environmental sustainability issues (e.g. reduce waste, carbon footprint, and energy demand) to create a ‘culture of sustainability’ which is mainstreamed into communities’ everyday life.
She has held her post at Lancaster University's Beyond Imagination since the start of 2020. Before that she was a Lecturer in Sustainable Development for 3 years at the University of St Andrews.
Home Comfort & Energy Demand
My PhD research centred on domestic energy and low-carbon living; investigating how lifestyle expectations influence, and are influenced, by the physical features of the home. This approach is informed by a growing body of literature on social practice theory and the importance of a socio-technical perspective. Thus, my research moves away from ideas of behaviour change, informed by social-psychology, to thinking more broadly about what energy is for, and in particular asking what comfort means in Scottish homes. Indeed, the meaning of comfort has become an important concept in order to critique the dominant techno-economic approach to meeting demand, yet this is mainly focused on thermal comfort and no research in this context has aimed to empirically study this concept. Thus, my research employed qualitative methods to ask about the meaning of comfort, including the use of household interviews, house tours and drawings. The research was based on speaking to residents of ‘low-carbon’ homes in Fife, Scotland. Read my PhD abstract or full thesis by clicking on these links.
Published outputs include 'Home-ing in on domestic energy research' (2015); 'Our obsession with comfort is the carbon conundrum everyone ignores' (2015); 'The history of home making and expectations of 'normal' home life' (2016); and 'Integrated Framework of Home Comfort' (2019); 'Home Comfort & Peak Household: Implications for energy demand' (2019).
Energy Prosumption & Smarter Homes
Research Fellowship (2015-2017)
Supporting the ESRC Future Leaders funded research on ‘Smarter homes’, which compares the experience of Dutch and British households living with microgeneration technologies through online research methods. My role has included literature reviews on a range of online research methods and debates, co-organising a two-day international workshop on online methods and household sustainability, and dissemination through peer-reviewed academic journals as well as non-academic outlets (i.e. The Conversation, updating our website). For more information visit https://smarterhomes.wordpress.com/
Published outputs include 'Conceptualising energy prosumption' (2016); 'Attempting to Bring Digital Tools to the Study of Everyday Home Life' (2016); 'World’s progress at making heating renewable is pitiful – here’s why' (2016); 'Practicing energy prosumption' (2017); and 'Nudge(ography) and practice theories' (2018).
Is Bigger Better? Comparing expectations of house size in the UK and Australia
1st Project as Principal Investigator (2018-2012)
This project aims to explore changing patterns of house size, space per person and expectation of privacy in the home. Domestic energy research and policy is critiqued by social scientists for being dominated by techno-economic thinking, which overlooks critical social considerations that also impact on energy demand. Despite increasing contributions by sociologists, historians, and geographers to provide more complex and contextual accounts to inform intervention strategies (e.g. challenging the normalisation of thermal comfort as 21C, which local and cultural ways of coping with variation in indoor temperatures) changes in house and household sizes are missing from these debates. Decreasing household sizes and rising space per person significantly influence energy demand per capita, and are widely seen to undermine energy savings from improved energy efficiency. This project will be a first step in a broader programme of work expanding our understanding of changing patterns in space per person, allowing the development of novel strategies for reducing energy demand.
Published outputs include 'Fixing the housing crisis: it’s time to challenge our thirst for more living space' (2018); 'Implications of declining household sizes and expectations of home comfort for domestic energy demand' (2019).
Joined Beyond Imagination at Lancaster University to explore and demonstrate how cutting-edge design research can create a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable world. Funded by Research England, this is a £13.2 million 3-year project.
I currently supervise two PhD students:
Megan Carras (full-time): ‘Tiny house, big impact’: are tiny homes the cure for consumerism? Exploring the Tiny house movement in the United States [completed 2019]
Rachel Creaney (full-time): SHOW – health Smart Homes for Older peoples’ Wellbeing (James Hutton Institute/University of St Andrews)
From 2012-2020 I taught at all levels of the SD Programme at the University of St Andrews.
I tutored and lectured undergraduate students within the BSc and MA degrees in Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews. I was involved in curriculum development, most notably restructuring and co-designing an interdisciplinary first year Sustainable Development module. This included working with colleagues from different disciplines: climate science, biology, economics, human geography, population studies, and political science.
I also coordinated my own honours module on 'Society, Sustainable Consumption & Implementing Change' for two semesters.
Living Labs & Theoretical Theatre
One of my main contributions to the Sustainable Development programme has been giving students opportunities for their coursework and studies to contribute practically to sustainability activities in St Andrews and I am a key person at the University of St Andrews working across Schools and professional staff on embedding a ‘Living Labs’ approach. I am also passionate about innovative and engaging pedagogies, employing Gill Seyfang’s ‘theoretical theatre’. This involves ‘acting out’ different theories/debates, in order to bring them to life and demonstrate to student's the value of different theories and perspectives.
Ellsworth-Krebs, K., Reid, L., & Hunter, C. J. Home Comfort and “Peak Household”: Implications for Energy Demand. Housing, Theory and Society, 2019
Ellsworth-Krebs, K., Reid, L., and Hunter, CJ. Integrated framework for home comfort: relaxation, companionship and control, Building Research and Information, 2019.
Reid, L. and Ellsworth-Krebs, K. Nudge(ography) and practice theories: contemporary sites of behavioural science and post-structuralist approaches in geography, Progress in Human Geography, 2019.
Reid, L. and Ellsworth-Krebs, K. Practicing energy prosumption: using unsolicited online data to reveal everyday realities of solar thermal panels in the United Kingdom, Energy Research and Social Science, 34: 191-199, 2017.
Ellsworth-Krebs, K. and Reid, L. Conceptualising energy prosumption: exploring energy production, consumption and microgeneration in Scotland, UK. Environment and Planning A, 2016.
Ellsworth-Krebs, K., Reid, L. and Hunter, CJ. Home-ing in on Domestic Energy Research: 'house,' 'home,' and the importance of ontology. Energy Research and Social Science, 6:100-108, 2015.
Conference & Working Papers
Timan, T. and Ellsworth-Krebs, K. Going Digital: Attempting to Bring Digital Tools to the Study of Everyday Home Life. Everyday Futures Workshop, Lancaster, 2016.
Ellsworth-Krebs, K. (2018) "Fixing the housing crisis: it’s time to challenge our thirst for more living space" on the academic news analysis site, The Conversation (has a monthly audience of 5 million).
Ellsworth-Krebs, K. and Reid, L. (2016) “World’s progress at making heating renewable is pitiful – here’s why” on the academic news analysis site, The Conversation (has a monthly audience of 5 million).
Ellsworth-Krebs, K. (2015) “Our obsession with comfort is the carbon conundrum everyone ignores” on the academic news analysis site, The Conversation (has a monthly audience of 5 million).
Ellsworth-Krebs, K. (2015) “Why you should start an academic writing group” on Professor Pat Thomson’s blog, Patter (has over 18,000 subscribers as well as 12,000 twitter followers).
I worked with Transition University of St Andrews from 2010 to 2020 to better embed sustainability initiatives at the University and ensure greater cross over between action and research, including a stronger link with the School of Geography and Sustainable Development. Being active in practical sustainability projects, I helped set up a Transition Initiative in St Andrews in 2011. I was coordinator for two years (Oct 2010- May 2012) and I am now on the Board of Directors for Transition's Community Interest Company. Through my involvement with this Transition Initiative I have been lead and co-author on numerous successful funding bids as well as a member of multiple interview panels. From 2012-2016 I focused on a local bike project, which I founded and coordinated, to create a rental scheme and offer free classes on bicycle maintenance.
I have been active at the University in other capacities beyond research. I was PG representative for my department (2014-2015), a tutor in the Sustainable Development programme (2013-2015) and an Assistant Warden at the University’s largest hall of residence (2013-2016). I have organised a Sustainable Development seminar series (2011) with over 12 presenters and some interactive formats (fish bowl, world cafe) and set up a 'writing group' (following from #AcWriMo and #SUWTuesdays) where we work for two hours regularly writing in the same room as a way to protect writing time and keep up to date on what our colleagues are working on (2014). More recently, Dr Shona Russell and I have organised a symposium on 'Sustainability in the Curriculum' at the University of St Andrews that has led to the formation of a Sustainability Learning and Teaching Committee (2018).