Why Sustainability 2.0?
Sustainability science, as a field of practice, aims to provide societal actors with the evidence, strategies, tools, and capacities needed for decisive individual and collective actions in support of greater environmental sustainability and increased intergenerational wellbeing. It has been 20 years since the release of “Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability” by the US National Research Council. In that time, the science has matured rapidly, both in this country, and around the world. In the US, it is now time for a clear look at the elements of this field, and the system that supports it. Sustainability 2.0 is focused on taking that next step.
The relevance and impact of sustainability science in the US will depend, to a large extent, on the adoption and mainstreaming of research practices that are currently not well supported or consistently rewarded. These practices include collaborative, team-based science, a focus on systems-thinking and integration across disciplines, and knowledge co-creation with a wide range of societal partners. These research practices cut against many of our current incentive structures. The increasing demand for credibility, relevance, and salience within evidence-informed solutions requires the field to the field must expand in many ways at once – supporting new transdisciplinary research and implementation science focused on complex, multi-scale and often contentious research challenges, strengthening boundary-spanning capacities, training and supporting a broader diversity of sustainability leaders, and establishing and disseminating the essential technical and domain-specific skill sets, resources, and toolkits to facilitate the informed use of the knowledge we already have.
The current US research system often falls short in supporting this work, and the growth of sustainability science in the US will depend on the ability of leaders in academia, civil society, the public and private sector to examine, repurpose, and restructure our traditional systems of knowledge generation and engagement. The rapidly growing field of sustainability science, when interpreted broadly to include the innovation communities, also deeply engaged in sustainability, is well-positioned to serve as a foundation for change, yet the structural support for sustainability science – professional societies, funding sources, academic incentives, curricula development – has not kept up with the explosive growth in the field.