Next Article in Journal
Transition of the Swiss Phosphorus System towards a Circular Economy—Part 1: Current State and Historical Developments
Next Article in Special Issue
Regenerative Development as an Integrative Paradigm and Methodology for Landscape Sustainability
Previous Article in Journal
Coupling of Problems, Political Attention, Policies and Institutional Conditions: Explaining the Performance of Environmental Targets in the National Five-Year Plans in China
Previous Article in Special Issue
Quantifying Surface Coal-Mining Patterns to Promote Regional Sustainability in Ordos, Inner Mongolia
Article Menu
Issue 5 (May) cover image

Export Article

Open AccessArticle
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1478; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051478

“What Kind of a Science is Sustainability Science?” An Evidence-Based Reexamination

1,2,3
,
3,* , 1,2
,
1,2
and
1,3,4,*
1
Center for Human–Environment System Sustainability (CHESS), State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology (ESPRE), Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
2
School of Natural Resources, Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
3
School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA
4
School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA
*
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 8 April 2018 / Revised: 27 April 2018 / Accepted: 1 May 2018 / Published: 8 May 2018
Full-Text   |   PDF [2341 KB, uploaded 10 May 2018]   |  

Abstract

Sustainability science (SS), rooted in multiple disciplines, has been developing rapidly during the last two decades and become a well-recognized new field of study. However, the “identity” of SS remains unclear. Therefore, this study was intended to help synthesize the key characteristics of SS by revisiting the question raised by the leading sustainability scientist, Robert Kates (2011): “What kind of a science is sustainability science?” Specifically, we reviewed the literature in SS, and developed a synthesis of definitions and core research questions of SS, using multiple methods including change-point detection, word cloud visualization, and content and thematic analyses. Our study has produced several main findings: (1) the development of SS exhibited an S-shaped growth pattern, with an exponential growth phase through to 2012, and a asymptotic development phase afterwards; (2) ten key elements from the existing definitions of SS were identified, of which understanding “human–environment interactions” and “use-inspired” were most prominent; and (3) sixteen core questions in SS were derived from the literature. We further proposed an eight-theme framework of SS to help understand how the sixteen questions are related to each other. We argue that SS is coming of age, but more integrative and concerted efforts are still needed to further consolidate its identity by developing a coherent and rigorous scientific core. View Full-Text
Keywords: sustainability science; sustainable development; definition; core questions; thematic framework; sustainability education; landscape sustainability sustainability science; sustainable development; definition; core questions; thematic framework; sustainability education; landscape sustainability
Figures

Figure 1

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

Supplementary material

SciFeed

Share & Cite This Article

MDPI and ACS Style

Fang, X.; Zhou, B.; Tu, X.; Ma, Q.; Wu, J. “What Kind of a Science is Sustainability Science?” An Evidence-Based Reexamination. Sustainability 2018, 10, 1478.

Show more citation formats Show less citations formats

Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Related Articles

Article Metrics

Article Access Statistics

1

Comments

[Return to top]
Sustainability EISSN 2071-1050 Published by MDPI AG, Basel, Switzerland RSS E-Mail Table of Contents Alert
Back to Top