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Special Issue "Communication for and about Sustainability"

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A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2013)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Gerd Michelsen

Institute for Environmental and Sustainability Communication, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany
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Interests: sustainability communication; education for sustainable development; higher education
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Matthias Barth

Institute for Competence Development, University of Applied Science Ostwestfalen-Lippe, Germany
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Interests: sustainability communications; social learning; education for sustainable development

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Twenty years after Rio what is needed more than ever is a search for ways to improve the social capacity to guide interactions between nature and society toward a more sustainable future. This is and needs to be a process of social learning in its broadest sense, in which communication plays a crucial role. Taking this into account, sustainability communication is a process of mutual understanding of the normative concept of sustainability as well as the individual and societal possibilities of taking action.
This special issue – to be published in 2013 - aims to take stock and map existing research on sustainability communication and to explore the role sustainability communication plays for a sustainable transition. We invite submissions that examine all aspects of communication related to sustainability in any setting and at any level of communication (such as interpersonal, group, intergroup, organizational, or mass communication). We particularly encourage contributions from different disciplinary perspectives employing a broad variety of research methods (philosophical/theoretical, conceptual or empirical).

Prof. Dr. Gerd Michelsen
Prof. Dr. Matthias Barth
Guest Editors

Submission

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed Open Access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs).

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Following Gandhi: Social Entrepreneurship as A Non-Violent Way of Communicating Sustainability Challenges
Sustainability 2014, 6(2), 1018-1036; doi:10.3390/su6021018
Received: 18 November 2013 / Revised: 13 February 2014 / Accepted: 14 February 2014 / Published: 21 February 2014
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (601 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In the context of the Rio Earth Summit numerous international regimes, national policies and organizational guidelines have appeared that help translate the normative demands of sustainable development into political reality. The implementation of these instruments, however, often runs into difficulties or fails entirely.
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In the context of the Rio Earth Summit numerous international regimes, national policies and organizational guidelines have appeared that help translate the normative demands of sustainable development into political reality. The implementation of these instruments, however, often runs into difficulties or fails entirely. An example is the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), a progressive approach for the conservation of freshwater that is very unlikely to be implemented by 2015, the target year. We examine in this paper how a recent variation of Gandhian non-violent communication within social entrepreneurship suggests one way to deal with this challenge. Non-violent communication, rooted in Gandhian social action, has long been part of environmental politics. It has undergone a new variation as a mode of communication in the hands of social entrepreneurship initiatives that address urgent social and environmental issues with new, practical ideas. In the conceptual part of this paper, we outline our approach to sustainability, non-violent communication and social entrepreneurship. In a further part, we present data from a trans-disciplinary experiment to illustrate and critically discuss social entrepreneurship as a mode of sustainability communication. The experiment looked at, which is based on French social entrepreneur Roberto Epple’s idea of a Big Jump, is a collaborative campaign that invites young people to take action for water conservation in the context of the WFD. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Communication for and about Sustainability)
Open AccessArticle Using Interactive Web Tools in Environmental Planning to Improve Communication about Sustainable Development
Sustainability 2014, 6(1), 236-250; doi:10.3390/su6010236
Received: 25 November 2013 / Revised: 11 December 2013 / Accepted: 17 December 2013 / Published: 2 January 2014
Cited by 10 | PDF Full-text (733 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Public involvement in the landscape planning process is an essential opportunity to communicate the goals and objectives of a sustainable planning. However, it is also important to accommodate citizen’s attitudes and perceptions of sustainability on a local or regional scale in the decision-making
[...] Read more.
Public involvement in the landscape planning process is an essential opportunity to communicate the goals and objectives of a sustainable planning. However, it is also important to accommodate citizen’s attitudes and perceptions of sustainability on a local or regional scale in the decision-making process. This involvement can be supported by interactive information, discussion, and learning opportunities. This article examines how communication in the context of environmental issues can be supported by modern web tools, social media, and new visualization approaches. Furthermore, the potential of social media to support communication about sustainability on a local scale and the prerequisites for its use in the planning process are discussed. Using a case study about citizens’ response to the development of intensive livestock farming in rural setting, we examine what the perception of sustainability on local scale could mean for citizens. Another case study about interactive landscape planning illustrates how such tools can promote communication about environmental issues and local sustainability. Using a framework for the use of social media, we suggest different application levels of social media in participatory planning. Finally, the opportunities to support sustainable decisions with landscape visualization in environmental planning and decision-making issues are discussed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Communication for and about Sustainability)
Open AccessArticle Communicating Climate Change through ICT-Based Visualization: Towards an Analytical Framework
Sustainability 2013, 5(11), 4760-4777; doi:10.3390/su5114760
Received: 1 July 2013 / Revised: 28 October 2013 / Accepted: 30 October 2013 / Published: 7 November 2013
Cited by 9 | PDF Full-text (341 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
The difficulties in communicating climate change science to the general public are often highlighted as one of the hurdles for support of enhanced climate action. The advances of interactive visualization using information and communication technology (ICT) are claimed to be a game-changer in
[...] Read more.
The difficulties in communicating climate change science to the general public are often highlighted as one of the hurdles for support of enhanced climate action. The advances of interactive visualization using information and communication technology (ICT) are claimed to be a game-changer in our ability to communicate complex issues. However, new analytical frameworks are warranted to analyse the role of such technologies. This paper develops a novel framework for analyzing the content, form, context and relevance of ICT-based visualization of climate change, based on insights from literature on climate change communication. Thereafter, we exemplify the analytical framework by applying it to a pilot case of ICT-based climate visualization in a GeoDome. Possibilities to use affordable advanced ICT-based visualization devices in science and policy communication are rapidly expanding. We thus see wider implications and applications of the analytical framework not only for other ICT environments but also other issue areas in sustainability communication. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Communication for and about Sustainability)
Open AccessArticle Communication and the Narrative Basis of Sustainability: Observations from the Municipal Water Sector
Sustainability 2013, 5(10), 4428-4443; doi:10.3390/su5104428
Received: 8 August 2013 / Revised: 28 August 2013 / Accepted: 30 September 2013 / Published: 17 October 2013
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (620 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Numerous studies attempt to operationalize sustainability and seek to characterize objective, or at least standardized, metrics of sustainable conditions and/or operations. In this paper, we suggest that sustainability is better viewed as an emergent quality, defined in terms of specific institutions and situations.
[...] Read more.
Numerous studies attempt to operationalize sustainability and seek to characterize objective, or at least standardized, metrics of sustainable conditions and/or operations. In this paper, we suggest that sustainability is better viewed as an emergent quality, defined in terms of specific institutions and situations. Observations from the water sector suggest that sustainability is not merely a matter of “bolting on technologies”, but a complex synthesis of institutional factors, social value perspectives, technologies and engineered artifacts, and natural or environmental conditions. The pursuit of sustainability appears to involve a process of broad-scale organizational transformation, a transformation that can vary significantly from utility to utility. Owing to this contingent quality, we suggest that sustainability is productively understood as a narrative construct. We illustrate how two types of discourse are particularly critical to the establishment and perpetuation of meaningful sustainability programs in water utilities and municipalities: (1) constitutive discourse, which frames and enables new ways of conceiving a particular state of affairs; and (2) transactional discourse, which provides a medium for participatory deliberation and enables the sharing of instructions and information necessary to carry out a transformation from the status quo to an envisioned future state. Although physio-chemical properties, ecological processes and thresholds, and technological factors must inform deliberations, we suggest that the realization of sustainability is at base a narrative enterprise. Observations articulated in this essay were derived through an ensemble research approach including a targeted literature review, a three-phase survey of 18 U.S. water utilities, and a workshop with water sector professionals, regulators, and experts in sustainability and organizational change. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Communication for and about Sustainability)
Open AccessArticle Addressing the Complexities of Boundary Work in Sustainability Science through Communication
Sustainability 2013, 5(10), 4195-4221; doi:10.3390/su5104195
Received: 29 July 2013 / Revised: 14 August 2013 / Accepted: 11 September 2013 / Published: 25 September 2013
Cited by 11 | PDF Full-text (584 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Sustainability science seeks to identify and implement workable solutions to complex problems. This transdisciplinary approach advances a commitment to work across boundaries that occur among individuals, disciplines, and institutions to build capacities for informed and innovative decision making in the face of uncertainty
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Sustainability science seeks to identify and implement workable solutions to complex problems. This transdisciplinary approach advances a commitment to work across boundaries that occur among individuals, disciplines, and institutions to build capacities for informed and innovative decision making in the face of uncertainty and change. The concept of boundary work and related discussions of boundary objects and organizations are important, expanding focal areas within sustainability science. While communication is described as central to boundary work, insights from the field of communication have largely yet to inform theorizing about boundaries within sustainability science. In this paper, we highlight three communication perspectives, namely media studies, collaboration and partnerships, and systems theories, which are particularly relevant for understanding how boundaries form, the social context in which boundary work occurs, and informed strategies for enhanced boundary spanning and management. We use three case studies to illustrate how communication theories and methods provide dynamic and strategic lenses within transdisciplinary processes to enable collaborators to build capacity for change, sustain critical and reflective inquiry, and approach difference as generative in collective efforts to produce sustainability. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Communication for and about Sustainability)
Open AccessArticle Strengthening Knowledge Co-Production Capacity: Examining Interest in Community-University Partnerships
Sustainability 2013, 5(9), 3744-3770; doi:10.3390/su5093744
Received: 17 May 2013 / Revised: 31 July 2013 / Accepted: 15 August 2013 / Published: 4 September 2013
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (598 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Building successful, enduring research partnerships is essential for improving links between knowledge and action to address sustainability challenges. Communication research can play a critical role in fostering more effective research partnerships, especially those concerned with knowledge co-production processes. This article focuses on community-university
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Building successful, enduring research partnerships is essential for improving links between knowledge and action to address sustainability challenges. Communication research can play a critical role in fostering more effective research partnerships, especially those concerned with knowledge co-production processes. This article focuses on community-university research partnerships and factors that influence participation in the co-production process. We identify specific pathways for improving partnership development through a prospective analytical approach that examines community officials’ interest in partnering with university researchers. Using survey responses from a statewide sample of Maine municipal officials, we conduct a statistical analysis of community-university partnership potential to test a conceptual model of partnership interest grounded in natural resource management theory and environmental communication. Our findings both support and advance prior research on collaborations. Results reveal that belief in the helpfulness of the collaborator to solve problems, institutional proximity, familiarity, perceived problem severity and problem type and trust influence interest in developing community-university partnerships. These findings underscore the benefits of proactively assessing partnership potential prior to forming partnerships and the important roles for communication research within sustainability science, especially with regard to strengthening partnership formation and knowledge co-production processes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Communication for and about Sustainability)
Open AccessArticle Alternative Communications about Sustainability Education
Sustainability 2013, 5(8), 3562-3580; doi:10.3390/su5083562
Received: 5 July 2013 / Revised: 2 August 2013 / Accepted: 12 August 2013 / Published: 19 August 2013
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (530 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In preparation for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, UNESCO communicated its conceptualization of education for sustainable development (ESD). This paper does not assume that UNESCO was ineffective in communicating its approach to ESD; rather, the premise is that UNESCO’s actual
[...] Read more.
In preparation for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, UNESCO communicated its conceptualization of education for sustainable development (ESD). This paper does not assume that UNESCO was ineffective in communicating its approach to ESD; rather, the premise is that UNESCO’s actual message was not well received by everyone, with some pushing back with alternative communications of their own. This paper identifies and profiles seven vanguard theoretical and pedagogical approaches to the problem of unsustainability, including, but not limited to: sustainable contraction, unlearning unsustainability, a 3D-heuristic, an integrative, place-based approach, and a Gaia-informed, ecological approach. It concludes with a discussion of seven overarching alternative messages for communicating about sustainability including: refocused education; complexity, chaos and living systems; Gaia and ecology; paradigm shifts for uncertainty; knowledge integration; existentialism; and fear and hope. Intellectual and pedagogical discourse can be kindled and stimulated by drawing on alternative communications about the normative concept of sustainability. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Communication for and about Sustainability)
Open AccessArticle Communication Regarding Sustainability: Conceptual Perspectives and Exploration of Societal Subsystems
Sustainability 2013, 5(7), 2976-2990; doi:10.3390/su5072976
Received: 18 May 2013 / Revised: 28 June 2013 / Accepted: 1 July 2013 / Published: 9 July 2013
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (643 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Sustainability issues are typically characterized by high complexity and uncertainty. In light of this, communication plays a crucial role in coping with these challenges. The previous debate on sustainability communication has largely focused on how to communicate sustainability issues to others. Sustainability communication,
[...] Read more.
Sustainability issues are typically characterized by high complexity and uncertainty. In light of this, communication plays a crucial role in coping with these challenges. The previous debate on sustainability communication has largely focused on how to communicate sustainability issues to others. Sustainability communication, however, involves more than sender oriented communication to persuade others (“communication of sustainability”); it also embraces processes of dialogue and discourse (“communication about sustainability”). Based on this distinction, we develop a typology of communication modes, including communication for sustainability. Inspired by the notion of functional communication systems, we explore sustainability communication in six societal subsystems, applying the typology of communication modes. Drawing mostly on examples from Germany, we find a shift from “communication of” towards “communication about” sustainability in most subsystems. While communication subsystems have a tendency towards operational closure, a variety of interlinkages exist. We discuss three key areas of “opening up” communication subsystems, leading to transdisciplinarity, societal deliberation and governance, each meeting one of sustainability’s core challenges. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Communication for and about Sustainability)
Open AccessArticle A Methodology for Mapping Meanings in Text-Based Sustainability Communication
Sustainability 2013, 5(6), 2457-2479; doi:10.3390/su5062457
Received: 29 March 2013 / Revised: 3 May 2013 / Accepted: 21 May 2013 / Published: 4 June 2013
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (604 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
In moving society towards more sustainable forms of consumption and production, social learning must play an important role. Making the assumption that it occurs as a consequence of changes in understanding, this article presents a methodology for mapping meanings in sustainability communication texts.
[...] Read more.
In moving society towards more sustainable forms of consumption and production, social learning must play an important role. Making the assumption that it occurs as a consequence of changes in understanding, this article presents a methodology for mapping meanings in sustainability communication texts. The methodology uses techniques from corpus linguistics and framing theory. Two large databases of text were constructed by copying material down from the websites of two different groups of social actors: (i) environmental NGOs and (ii) British green business, and saving it as .txt files. The findings on individual words show that the NGOs and business use them very differently. Focusing on words expressing concern for the natural environment, it is proposed that the two actors also conceptualize their concern differently. Green business’s cognitive system of concern has two well-developed frames; good intentions and risk management. However, three frames—concern for the natural environment, perception of the damage, and responsibility, are light on detail. In contrast, within the NGOs’ system of concern, the frames of concern for the natural environment, perception of the damage and responsibility, contain words making detailed representations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Communication for and about Sustainability)

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