Sustainability Science in a Global Landscape

As the UN launches new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, the world’s leaders, businesses and research institutes are exploring how they can best contribute to the agenda.

Science, technology and innovation have long been recognized as the basis for socioeconomic development and as core contributors to sustainable development.

  • But are all aspects of sustainable development being addressed equally?
  • Which countries are leading, and where could research be developed?
  • Are the papers having the impact needed to make a real difference?

Sustainability science has a high impact

This report – a collaboration between Elsevier and SciDev.Net – examines the status of sustainability science as a research field.

By looking at research output and citation impact, research collaboration and interdisciplinary research, this report contributes to our understanding of sustainable development, analyzing how far sustainability science has progressed as a discipline.

As such, it aims to support the dialogue between society and science under the UN SDGs and adds to our knowledge of sustainability science in the global landscape.

Visit report download page

This study is a useful first step in helping us to understand the emerging field of 'sustainability science'. The results of the research will enable us to map sustainable research – helping us to explore the structural relations and the examples of promising practice which shape and facilitate international research publishing, and in doing so revealing gaps and opportunities.

Nick Perkins, Director, SciDev.Net

Summary of Report Findings

  • Sustainability science is growing at a tremendous rate: the total research output of the field increased from 56,390 to 75,602.
  • The number of research papers in sustainability science is increasing annually by 7.6% – almost double the growth rate of all published research, at 3.9%.
  • Sustainability science has a high impact: the FWCI of publications in sustainability science is 1.3 – 30% higher than the world average of 1.
  • Research in sustainability science is increasingly international: the USA’s proportion of international collaboration increased from 26.5% to 32.9% of its research output in this field.
  • Sustainability science is less interdisciplinary than the world average: on average, 6.7% of sustainability science publications belong to the world’s top 10% most interdisciplinary publications – this is lower than the world average of 10%.
  • Collaboration across regions is also low: only 2% of low income countries contribute to the field compared to 76% by high income countries.

We have analyzed a comprehensive body of global research to draw out the strengths and gaps in the fields of sustainability. We aim to spur a deeper dialogue between all the key stakeholders to advance an understanding of these new disciplines.

The challenges are great, but we believe that science and evidence can help us to shape our world for the better for future generations.

Youngsuk "Y.S." Chi, Chairman of Elsevier

We have been considering the effectiveness of the Millennium Goals in achieving their objective to focus the minds of policy makers. The question now becomes: how can we translate that momentum to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? There is a huge knowledge gap between what we know how to do today and what is needed for the future. That knowledge gap is filled by research, including in peer-reviewed journals.

Ashish K. Jha, Director, Harvard Global Health Institute

Visualizations

Figure 1: The impact of sustainability science is above the global average in most areas
Figure 1: The impact of sustainability science is above the global average in most areas
Figure 2: The research output of sustainability science is increasing globally
Figure 2: The research output of sustainability science is increasing globally
Figure 3: Research in the area of Planet is the most collaborative
Figure 3: Research in the area of Planet is the most collaborative