Sustainability science in a global landscape

A report conducted by Elsevier in collaboration with SciDev.Net

As the first of a series of activities that aim to provide valuable insights into the global research landscape surrounding the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, this report, conducted by Elsevier in collaboration with SciDev.Net, contributes to the understanding of sustainability science as a research field and the dialogue between science and society in sustainable development.

In this relatively young field, this study establishes a baseline, both in the definition and the understanding of sustainability science, from which we may follow its progression and trajectory. Six key themes that encompass the 17 United Nations Sustainability Development Goals are examined in the report: Dignity, People, Prosperity, Planet, Justice and Partnership.

Why is it important?

Experts in the field of sustainability science share their thoughts on sustainable development and identifies the importance of Sustainability Science in a Global Landscape report:

The core findings

  1. Sustainability science is a field with a high growth rate in research output Sustainability science is growing at a tremendous rate

    In 2009 the total research output of the field was 56,390 and this increased to 75,602 in 2013. This results in a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.6%, almost twice the average growth rate of all publications in Scopus over the same period.

  2. Research output in sustainability science attracts 30% more citations than an average research paper

    The FWCI of publications in sustainability science in the period 2009-2013 is 1.3 – 30% higher than the world average of 1. The theme Planet leads all other themes in FWCI. Throughout the period it remains stable at around 1.50.

    CAGR and FWCI of research output

    Chart 1: CAGR and FWCI of research output; per country for the top 5 most prolific countries; for sustainability science; for the period 2009-2013. Bubble size denotes the number of publications, and the numbers helow each bubble are the number of publications in sustainability science and the percentage of the country's publications in sustainability science in the top 10% IDR.

  3. Research in sustainability science is highly collaborative Research in sustainability science is increasingly international

    As an example, the USA’s proportion of international collaboration increased from 26.5% of its research output in this field to 32.9%. For countries such as the UK and Germany, around half of their publications in sustainability science are joint efforts by researchers from different countries. Many countries, in particular China and Japan, collaborate much more intensively in sustainability science than overall. However, the level of collaboration between developed and developing countries in sustainability science is still low.

    Percentage of country's publications that are international collaborations

    Chart 2: Share of internationally collaborative publications out of the country's total publications and FWCI of international collaboration; per country for the top 15 most prolific countries in sustainability science; for sustainability science; per year for the period 2009-2013.

  4. Sustainability science is less interdisciplinary than the world average

    On average, 6.7% of sustainability science publications in the period 2009-2013 belong to the world’s top 10% most IDR publications. This number is lower than the world average of 10%. However, the percentage is growing. Across the world, we see an increase from 6.1% to 7.1%.

    IDR research in sustainability science focuses on a number of topics. They include health and pollution, water and its social and economic implications, and the economic and environmental impact of energy and fuels.