Sustainability Research is Growing Nearly Twice as Fast as Research Overall, Report Finds

A study published by Elsevier and SciDev.Net presents an evidence-based overview of sustainability research today ahead of the UN summit on sustainable development

New York, September 24, 2015

Research that informs sustainable development is experiencing a surge as innovative ways to preserve environmental health and safeguard societal well-being top global leaders' agendas, a report by Elsevier and SciDev.Net released on the eve of the United Nation's Sustainability Summit shows.

Research on sustainability has grown almost twice as fast as research overall each year between 2009 and 2013 (7.6 percent compared to an annual growth rate for all published research of 3.9 percent). Sustainability research also receives 30 percent more citations than an average research paper, indicating the high relevance that scientific investigations have into the many facets of sustainability, such as clean energy, humane living conditions, and gender equality.

The findings are included in a new report, Sustainability Science in a Global Landscape, released today by Elsevier, a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, and, the world’s leading source of news about science and technology for global development.

Underpinned by the 17 new United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the report focuses on six themes of sustainability science: dignity, people, prosperity, planet, justice, and partnership. It examines global research output and citation impact, research collaboration among nations and sectors, and the interdisciplinary nature of research in the field between 2009 and 2013.

The report shows that, despite the strong interest in and reception of sustainability science, the level of interdisciplinary research in sustainability science is below world average and low-income countries contribute no more than 2 percent of the research output in sustainability science compared to 76 percent contributed by high-income countries.

"Despite the tremendous growth sustainability science has seen in recent years, the low rate of interdisciplinary research and the low level of collaboration between developed and developing countries show room for improvement,” said Ron Mobed, Elsevier's Chief Executive Officer. “Ultimately, science needs to be fully integrated to address the world’s grand challenges. We will need to build local research networks with global capacity. This report provides valuable insights for further discussions and to benchmark our progress.”

Other findings presented in the report include:

  • The top five countries for research in sustainability science are: 1. USA, 2. UK, 3. China, 4. Germany and 5. Australia.
  • South Africa and countries in East Africa serve as network hubs connecting other African countries to the USA, Canada, and Western Europe.
  • Collaborations with developed countries are essential for low-income countries. The collaborations with developed countries contribute to the great majority of low-income countries’ research output in sustainability science.
  • Planet is the largest and second fastest growing theme with an annual growth rate of 10.7 percent in research output.
  • In order of output size, the USA’s research focus in sustainability science is first on the theme of People, second on Planet and Justice. China’s research focus is first on the theme of Planet and second on Prosperity, while the UK focuses on Planet, People and Justice.

"The report reveals a number of important features around the production and consumption of research which both the academic community and development practitioners should be aware of,” said Dr. Nick Ismael Perkins, Director of SciDev.Net. “We can be encouraged by the growth of research about sustainability because we need as many people thinking about this as urgently and as comprehensively as we can."

The report is based on both quantitative and qualitative analyses led by Elsevier’s Analytical Services team, part of Elsevier Research Intelligence Solutions, and carried out in collaboration with SciDev.Net. The report is based on data from Elsevier's Scopus abstract and citation database, and supplemented by input and interviews with key researchers in the field.

To unveil the report, Elsevier and SciDev.Net are hosting a panel discussion today, Sept 24, 2015, in New York, where leading experts on sustainable development will discuss some of the key findings and themes outlined in the report. Follow @ElsevierConnect on Twitter.


Note to editors
To download the full report, go to:

Journalists who wish to schedule an interview to discuss the implications of the findings of the report can contact: Lauren Macon,, +1 703 625 1698

For any other questions relating to the report, please contact Sacha Boucherie, or

About SciDev.Net
SciDev.Net is the world’s leading online source of news about science, technology and innovation for development. It features scientific areas commonly overlooked in development, and focuses on scientific knowledge that will make a difference to poor and marginalised people.

In addition to its global pages, SciDev.Net has six regional editions based across the developing world. These are published in four languages — French, Arabic, Spanish and English — and address local priorities.

About Elsevier Research Intelligence Solutions
Elsevier Research Intelligence is a comprehensive research information management portfolio which improves the ability to establish, execute, and evaluate research strategies. The portfolio includes the new-generation SciVal tool, the Pure system, and our custom Analytical Services, as well as rich data assets like Scopus, and the reference management technology of Mendeley. Elsevier Research Intelligence enables research organizations, funders, policy-makers, and individual researchers to make better decisions, improve collaboration, attract investment, and optimize expenditure - all to enhance research strategy, execution, and performance.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

Media contact
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