Sustainability science emerged in the 21st century as a new academic discipline. This new field of science was officially introduced with a "Birth Statement" at the World Congress "Challenges of a Changing Earth 2001" in Amsterdam organized by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). The field reflects a desire to give the generalities and broad-based approach of "sustainability" a stronger analytic and scientific underpinning as it "brings together scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives from north and south, and disciplines across the natural and social sciences, engineering, and medicine". Ecologist William C. Clark proposes that it can be usefully thought of as "neither 'basic' nor 'applied' research but as a field defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs" and that it "serves the need for advancing both knowledge and action by creating a dynamic bridge between the two".
The field is focused on examining the interactions between human, environmental, and engineered systems to understand and contribute to solutions for complex challenges that threaten the future of humanity and the integrity of the life support systems of the planet, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and land and water degradation.
Sustainability science, like sustainability itself, derives some impetus from the concepts of sustainable development and environmental science. Sustainability science provides a critical framework for sustainability while sustainability measurement provides the evidence-based quantitative data needed to guide sustainability governance.
Consensual definition of sustainability science is as elusive as the definition of "sustainability" or "sustainable development". In an overview presented on its website in 2008 the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University described the field in the following way, stressing its interdisciplinarity:
'Sustainability science' is problem-driven, interdisciplinary scholarship that seeks to facilitate the design, implementation, and evaluation of effective interventions that foster shared prosperity and reduced poverty while protecting the environment. It is defined by the problems it addresses rather than the disciplines it employs. It thus draws as needed from multiple disciplines of the natural, social, medical and engineering sciences, from the professions, and from the knowledge of practice.
Susan W. Kieffer and colleagues, in 2003, suggested, more specifically, that sustainability science is:
... the cultivation, integration, and application of knowledge about Earth systems gained especially from the holistic and historical sciences (such as geology, ecology, climatology, oceanography) coordinated with knowledge about human interrelationships gained from the social sciences and humanities, in order to evaluate, mitigate, and minimize the consequences, regionally and worldwide, of human impacts on planetary systems and on societies across the globe and into the future – that is, in order that humans can be knowledgeable Earth stewards.
It has been noted that the new paradigm
Others take a much broader view of sustainability science, emphasizing the need to analyze the root causes of the fundamental unsustainability of the prevailing economic system, such as the emphasis on growth as key to solving political and social problems and advancing society's well-being. In a 2012 article entitled "Sustainability Science Needs to Include Sustainable Consumption," published in Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, Halina Brown argues that sustainability science must include the study of the sociology of material consumption and the structure of consumerist society, the role of technology in aggravating the unsustainable social practices, as well as in solving the problems they create, the macroeconomic theories that presuppose economic growth as a necessary condition for advancing societal well-being, and others.
The case for making research and development an important component of sustainable development strategies was embraced by many international scientific organizations in the mid-1980s, promoted by the Brundtland Commission's report Our Common Future in 1987, and noted in the Agenda 21 plan that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 and further developed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002.
The topics of the following sub-headings indicate recurring themes that are addressed in the literature of sustainability science. In 2010 a compendium of basic papers in this new discipline was published as Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology, edited by Robert Kates, with a preface by William Clark. The 2012 Commentary by Halina Brown extensively expands the scope of that seminal publication. This is work in progress. The 2012 Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology was created as a collaboration of over 1000 scientists to provide peer-reviewed entries covering sustainability research and policy evaluations of technology.
Knowledge structuring of issues
Knowledge structuring has been identified as an essential first step in the effort to acquire a comprehensive view of sustainability issues which are both complex and interconnected. This is needed as a response to the requirements of academia, industry and government.
Coordination of data
The key research and data for sustainability are sourced from many scientific disciplines, topics and organisations. A major part of knowledge structuring will entail building up the tools that provide an "overview" of what is known. Sustainability science can construct and coordinate a framework within which the vast amount of data can be easily accessed.
The attempt, by sustainability science, to understand the integrated "whole" of planetary and human systems requires cooperation between scientific, social and economic disciplines, public and private sectors, academia and government. In short it requires a massive global cooperative effort and one major task of sustainability science is to assist integrated cross-disciplinary coordination.
- Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development, semiannual journal published since 2009, now "in partnership with Columbia University Libraries".
- International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, journal with six issues per year, published since 1994 by Taylor & Francis.
- Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment & Society (S.A.P.I.EN.S.), semiannual journal published by Veolia Environment from 2008 to 2015. A notable essay on sustainability indicators by Paul-Marie Boulanger appeared in the first issue.
- Sustainability Science, journal launched by Springer in June 2006.
- Sustainability: Science, Practice, Policy, an open-access journal for sustainable solutions launched in March 2005. Now published by Taylor & Francis.
- Sustainability: The Journal of Record, bimonthly journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. beginning in December 2007.
- A section dedicated to sustainability science in the multidisciplinary journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was launched in 2006.
- GAIA: Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society / GAIA: Ökologische Perspektiven für Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft, a quarterly inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions. Launched in 1992 and published by oekom verlag on behalf of GAIA Society – Konstanz, St. Gallen, Zurich.
List of sustainability science programs
In recent years, more and more university degree programs have developed formal curricula which address issues of sustainability science and global change:
Undergraduate programmes in sustainability science
Graduate degree programmes in sustainability science
- Kates, R.; Clark, W.; Corell, R.; Hall, J.; Jaeger, C.; et al. (2001). "Sustainability science". Science. 292 (5517): 641–642. doi:10.1126/science.1059386. PMID 11330321.
- http://www.ihdp.unu.edu/ IHDP of the United Nations University
- Clark, W.C., & Dickson, N. M. 2003. Sustainability science: The emerging research program. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 100(14): 8059–8061.
- Clark, W.C. 2007. "Sustainability Science: A room of its own". Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 104: 1737–1738; published online 6 February 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0611291104
- "Sustainability Science". Task Force on Conceptual Foundations. Earth System Governance Project. earthsystemgovernance.net. Retrieved 2017-07-16.
- Environmental Science: Iowa State University
- Komiyama, H., Takeuchi, K. 2006. Sustainability science: building a new discipline. Sustainability Science 1:1–6.
- "Sustainability Accounting in UK Local Government". The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. Archived from the original on 11 April 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2008.
- "Overview". Sustainable Science Program. Harvard University. Archived from the original on 19 November 2008. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
- Kieffer, S.W., Barton, P., Palmer, A.R., Reitan, P.H., & Zen, E. 2003. "Megascale events: Natural disasters and human behavior". Geological Society of America Abstracts with programs: 432.
- Reitan, P. 2005. Sustainability science – and what’s needed beyond science. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 1(1):77-80. /vol1iss1/communityessay.reitan.html Archived 2007-01-24 at the Wayback Machine
- Brown, Halina Szejnwald (24 January 2012). "Sustainability Science Needs to Include Sustainable Consumption". Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development. 54 (1): 20–25. doi:10.1080/00139157.2012.639598.
- Kauffmann, Joanne 2009. Advancing sustainability science: report on the International Conference on Sustainability Science (ICSS) 2009. Sustainability Science 4: 233–242.
- Kates, Robert W., ed. (2010). Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology. CID Working Paper No. 213. Center for International Development, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, December 2010. Abstract and PDF file available on the Harvard Kennedy School website; retrieved 2017-07-16.
- Meyers, R. (2012). Encyclopedia of sustainability science and technology. New York: Springer.
- Consilience. Accessed: 19 May 2018.
- International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology. Accessed: 19 May 2018.
- Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment & Society. Accessed: 19 May 2018.
- Boulanger, P-M. Sustainable development indicators: a scientific challenge, a democratic issue . S.A.P.I.EN.S 1(1) Online since 23 December 2008. Accessed 9 July 2009.
- The journal Sustainability Science
- Sustainability: science, practice, policy journal
- Sustainability: the journal of record
- "Sustainability Science". Sustainability.pnas.org. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
- "GAIA". Oekom.de. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
- Bernd Kasemir, Jill Jager, Carlo C. Jaeger, and Matthew T. Gardner (eds) (2003). Public participation in sustainability science, a handbook. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-52144-4
- Kajikawa Yuya (2008), "Research core and framework of sustainability science", Sustainability Science, n° 3, pp. 215–239, Springer DOI 10.1007/s11625-008-0053-1
- Kates, Robert W., ed. (2010). Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology. CID Working Paper No. 213. Center for International Development, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, December 2010. Abstract and PDF file available on the Harvard Kennedy School website
- Jackson, T. (2009), "Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Final Planet." London: Earthscan
- Brown, Halina Szejnwald (2012). "Sustainability Science Needs to Include Sustainable Consumption". Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 54: 20–25