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Sustainability Science

Sustainability Science

Editor-in-Chief: Kazuhiko Takeuchi

ISSN: 1862-4065 (print version)
ISSN: 1862-4057 (electronic version)

Journal no. 11625

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2018 Sustainability Science Best Paper Awards

The winning entries were selected from papers published in 2018 excluding notes and comments, editorials, message articles, and papers authored by a member of the committee. From a total of 102 eligible papers in 2018, three winners (one outstanding paper and two honorable mentions) were chosen in keeping with our selection process. All three winning papers were published with open access.
Read the editorial article ‘Recognizing our authors’ here


L. Jamila Haider, Jonas Hentati-Sundberg, Matteo Giusti, Julie Goodness, Maike Hamann, Vanessa A. Masterson, Megan Meacham, Andrew Merrie, Daniel Ospina, Caroline Schill and Hanna Sinare

The undisciplinary journey: early-career perspectives in sustainability science
Sustain Sci (2018) 13: 191-204
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The field of sustainability science is a problem-driven and solutions-oriented field of research. Embarking upon an interdisciplinary endeavour as an early-career scholar poses a unique set of challenges: to develop an individual scientific identity and a strong and specific methodological skill-set, while at the same time gaining the ability to understand and communicate between different ways of knowing or, epistemologies. The paper illustrates this well-known ‘breadth’ vs ‘depth’ struggle through the metaphor of a “compass”: intended to help navigate Methodological Groundedness (deep knowledge of methods within one or a few disciplines) and, Epistemological Agility (ability to work across and integrate different ways of knowing). The undisciplinary journey is an iterative and reflexive process of balancing these two aspects in order to engage in rigorous sustainability science.
The paper lays out the challenges and opportunities that emerge from a new kind of interdisciplinary journey, described as ‘undisciplinary.’ Undisciplinary describes: (1) The new academic space in which early-career sustainability science researchers with early interdisciplinary backgrounds find themselves; (2) What it is actually like to navigate this space through an iterative process that reflects one’s own development of methodological skills, understanding how we know what we know, and other competencies in relation to the sustainability challenges at hand; and (3) The development of an undisciplinary orientation which embraces the complexity and uncertainty inherent in problem-oriented research.


Arnim Scheidel, Leah Temper, Federico Demaria and Joan Martínez-Alier

Ecological distribution conflicts as forces for sustainability: an overview and conceptual framework
Sustain Sci (2018) 13: 585-598
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Conflicts over environmental degradation, pollution and access to natural resources are frequently portrayed from a destructive angle that analyses resource use concerns, injustices or violent tensions between actors. But can such environmental conflicts also unleash creative and constructive processes relevant for sustainability? This paper illustrates how contentious encounters may turn into potent forces for both justice and sustainability. A systematic view on the dynamic interactions between societal resource uses, environmental conflicts, social mobilizations and sustainability transitions is put forward.
The authors argue that environmental conflicts hold tremendous power for change, when affected people come together and resist being further polluted or dispossessed from environments upon which their livelihoods depend. Civil society movements, born out of such conflicts, contribute to sustainability transitions by monitoring and politicizing social and environmental unsustainabilities. Sometimes they also stop them through radical and contentious actions or develop and point towards urgently needed alternatives. Many stories from across the globe illustrate the authors’ argument and show how environmental conflicts can turn into important spaces of social and environmental transformation.

Patrik J. G. Henriksson, Andreu Rico, Max Troell, Dane H. Klinger, Alejandro H. Buschmann, Sonja Saksida, Mohan V. Chadag and Wenbo Zhang

Unpacking factors influencing antimicrobial use in global aquaculture and their implication for management: a review from a systems perspective
Sustain Sci (2018) 13: 1105-1120
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Aquaculture is the fastest growing animal food sector globally. Fish and shrimp are traditionally farmed in ponds and cages, but intensified practices have driven an increased reliance on therapeutants, including antimicrobials. These antimicrobials are usually applied with the feed or directly to the water and enter the surrounding environment through run-off water and sediments. This has resulted in increased frequencies of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) genes in organisms and humans living close to certain aquaculture operations.
AM use in aquaculture is in the meantime generally lower than in terrestrial livestock and some fish farming systems have greatly reduced use over the last decade. The variability in use among species and countries, and lack of empirical data on AM use in different aquaculture systems, however, limits detailed insights. In response, the authors set out to identify the underlying factors and the proximate drivers behind AM use in aquaculture.
Six proximate factors were identified: vulnerability to bacterial disease, AM access, disease diagnostic capacity, AMR frequency, target markets and food safety regulations, and certification. Low enforcement levels, easy availability, and limited ability to diagnose disease suggested higher AM use in low and middle-income countries. Meanwhile, for internationally traded products, food safety regulations were identified as the strongest proximate factor to limit current AM use. Investments are consequently recommended into improved farming practices and developing vaccines for finfish. Moreover, broader strategies that adopt a ‘One Health’ approach, looking all types of AM use in society, need to be implemented. The success of these strategies, in turn, depend upon data availability and quality.

2017 Sustainability Science Best Paper Awards 

The winning entries were selected from papers published in 2017 excluding notes and comments, editorials, message articles, and papers authored by a member of the committee. From a total of 62 eligible papers in 2017, three winners (one outstanding paper and two honorable mentions) were chosen in keeping with our selection process. Free access will also be granted to the winning papers for 2 months beginning with the publication of the July 2018 issue.
Read the editorial article ‘Recognizing our authors’ here

Most outstanding article 

Masahiro Sugiyama, Shinichiro Asayama, Takanobu Kosugi, Atsushi Ishii, Seita Emori, Jiro Adachi, Keigo Akimoto, Masatomo Fujiwara, Tomoko Hasegawa, Yasushi Hibi, Kimiko Hirata, Toru Ishii, Takeshi Kaburagi, Yuki Kita, Shigeki Kobayashi, Atsushi Kurosawa, Manabu Kuwata, Kooiti Masuda, Makoto Mitsui, Taku Miyata, Hiroshi Mizutani,• Sumie Nakayama, Kazuyo Oyamada, Takaaki Sashida, Miho Sekiguchi, Kiyoshi Takahashi, Yukari Takamura, Junichi Taki, Taketoshi Taniguchi, Hiroyuki Tezuka, Takahiro Ueno, Shingo Watanabe, Rie Watanabe, Naoyuki Yamagishi and Go Yoshizawa

Transdisciplinary co-design of scientific research agendas: 40 research questions for socially relevant climate engineering research
Sustain Sci (2017) 12:31-44
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If we, humans, had a capacity to develop a technology to change the earth's climate, should we refrain from it? Or should we do it? Under what condition and how? Scientists and policymakers have begun discussing such technologies called climate engineering or geoengineering because these technologies could be used to cool the earth to counteract global warming. Among them, stratospheric aerosol injection has received significant attention. Although it has not been developed, it is not a science fiction either. This is a high-stake technology with large uncertainties, and it is desirable to reflect the interests and concerns of stakeholders and the publics from the early stage of research and development. And yet, almost all previous research projects have been developed by experts and policymakers.
We-researchers of diverse disciplines, stakeholders, and policymakers in Japan--brainstormed possible research questions. Starting from about 350 questions, we narrowed them into 40 in a one-day workshop, following the methodology that has been extensively used in various issues that involve science and policy. In the selection process, we used a tailored voting method, in which any question receiving at least one vote remained, to protect minority opinions. This methodological innovation was crucial for such a controversial topic as climate engineering. The resulting 40 questions reflect a diverse set of concerns and interests and can serve as a starting point for future research projects. The study also demonstrated that with a careful planning, transdisciplinary research on a contentious issue is indeed feasible.

Honorable mention 

M. Dijk, J. de Kraker, A. van Zeijl-Rozema, H. van Lente, C. Beumer, S. Beemsterboer and P. Valkering

Sustainability assessment as problem structuring: three typical ways
Sustain Sci (2017) 12: 305–317
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The article examines three sustainability assessment (SA) approaches for problem structuring and offers advice for combining an analytical approach with a way of opening the social framings. The reflexive sustainability assessment that is proposed occupies the middle ground between more ‘transformative’ SA approaches, which demand radical changes in legal and governance structures, and the more widely implemented but strategically less effective environmental impact assessment tradition.
Sustainability assessment (SA) refers to a broad range of approaches to align decision-making with the principles of sustainability and is increasingly employed. Nevertheless, in public and private sectors sustainability results are still disappointing, and this paper reflects on this problem and proposes a way forward. We argue that, because sustainability issues are generally wicked problems (i.e. a ‘complex of interconnected factors in a pluralistic context’), effective assessments need to be reflexive about the definition of the issue and about the criteria for sustainable solutions. Based on a distinction of policy problems, we characterize SA as a form of problem structuring, and we distinguish three typical ways of problem structuring, corresponding to three different ways of integrating reflexivity in the assessment. We illustrate these routes in three examples. We discuss the way reflexivity is integrated in each example by discussing the mix of methods, SA process and epistemological balance.
Rather than merely calling for ‘more stakeholder participation’, our aim is to call for more reflexivity integrated into the SA approach, and we conclude by proposing a process map for reflexive sustainability assessment to support this.

Megan J. Cole, Richard M. Bailey and Mark G. New

Spatial variability in sustainable development trajectories in South Africa: provincial level safe and just operating spaces
Sustain Sci (2017) 12: 829–848
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The adoption in late 2015 of the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the first time all nations have agreed to a policy agenda that addresses environmental, social and economic issues together. With over 230 global indicators and many more national indicators to be developed, there is a need for tools to summaries and communicate progress on the SDGs and highlight national priorities. The 2030 Agenda also calls for data disaggregation to expose inequalities and SDG reporting at sub-national levels - where sustainable development will be delivered. In this article, we create visual tools to communicate and explore the sub-national variability in sustainable development indicators. Our provincial barometers are a disaggregation of our national barometer for inclusive sustainable development developed in 2014, which was based upon the ‘planetary boundaries’ and ‘safe and just space’ frameworks. The barometers define safe environmental boundaries and just social floors for South Africa’s nine provinces and provide radar plots for current status on 20 key indicators and trend plots for the change in status over the past 20 years. Our results show significant variation across the provinces and identify where the most pressing challenges are and where action is needed. The barometers and trend plots are novel in that they present comparable environmental and social data on key indicators over time for all South Africa’s provinces. They provide visual tools that communicate a range of key challenges and risks that provincial governments face in an accessible way, and the article provides an early case study of spatial disaggregation of national data that is required for the SDG implementation.

2016 Sustainability Science Best Paper Awards 

The winning papers were selected from papers published in 2016, excluding notes and comments, editorials, message articles, and papers authored by a member of the committee. From a total of 62 eligible papers in 2016, three winners (one outstanding paper and two honorable mentions) were chosen in keeping with our selection process. Free access will be granted to the winning papers for 2 months beginning with the September 2017 issue.
Read the editorial article ‘Recognizing our authors’ here

Most outstanding article 

Lotten Westberg, Merritt Polk

The role of learning in transdisciplinary research: moving from a normative concept to an analytical tool through a practice-based approach
Sustain Sci (2016) 11:385–397
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Joint learning or exchange of knowledge across diverse groups of societal actors is central to sustainable development. One consequence of this focus is that a number of different conceptualizations of learning in relation to sustainability have been presented and discussed in Sustainability Science. Many of these approaches are based on normative views of learning, seeing learning as desirable and sought after, and a conceptualization of knowledge as “transferable” between contexts. Such approaches are difficult to use as a basis for continual theory development and also difficult to apply to real-world settings. In this article, we apply a practice-based approach to learning, that is, an approach that views learning as an integral part of social life, and knowledge as context dependent. This approach implies that knowledge cannot be easily “transferred” but, if carefully facilitated, has the potential to be “translated” between contexts. We analyze three transdisciplinary research projects through a practice-based view of learning. Based on the analysis, we identify crucial aspects of both practice and research that are important for creating suitable conditions for learning that can contribute to societal change. These aspects include paying explicit attention to what learning and knowledge exchange entail for all participants in transdisciplinary research processes, as well as continual scrutiny of the relevance and usefulness of project activities and outcomes for the practitioners and the practice-based context.

Honorable mention 

Wiebren Johannes Boonstra, Emma Bjo¨ rkvik, L. Jamila Haider, Vanessa Masterson

Human responses to social-ecological traps
Sustain Sci (2016) 11:877–889
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When people are persistently unable to change their behavior to avoid or resolve a situation of ecological unsustainability, they can be considered ‘trapped’. More formally, a trap refers to unsustainable practices and outcomes that are persistent because the human reponses they trigger contribute to the reproduction of the adversity. Conventionally traps are explained as a lack of adaptive capacity, i.e. when people lack the capacity to change their behavior. In this article, we complement this basic understanding with attention to desire as a source of human motivations and the different access to opportunities that people have. We operationalize this broadened understanding with a typology that theorizes the mismatches that can occur between desires, abilities, opportunities, and their effects on traps. The empirical relevance of our framework and typology is illustrated with three cases of social-ecological traps: Swedish Baltic Sea fisheries; amaXhosa rural livelihoods; and Pamir smallholder farming. Our article demonstrates how differences in abilities and desires translate into different ways of responding to trap situations. It also highlights how these types of response influence social and ecological conditions, and can change opportunities for the people involved. These results emphasize that it is possible and important to consider the diversity of responses in relation to the understanding and possible resolution of social-ecological traps.

Nathan Vogt, Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez, Eduardo S. Brond´ızio, Fernando G. Rabelo, Katia Fernandes, Oriana Almeida, Sergio Riveiro, Peter J. Deadman, Yue Dou

Local ecological knowledge and incremental adaptation to changing flood patterns in the Amazon delta
Sustain Sci (2016) 11:611–623
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How is climate change and variation impacting people in the Amazon delta and the resources they depend on? How can local farmers and fishers there adapt to those changes and how can policy makers intervene to help? Here is a practical and productive collaboration with local farmer-fishers to co-produce knowledge in an attempt to answer those questions. Incremental adaption is not a mechanistic and directional process. Rather, incremental adaptation is the knowledge produced by individuals, households and community members sharing experiences of which productive practices are working better – and which not so well – given the environmental changes (climate, global markets or other) that are occurring. This knowledge of climate change is different from that produced using observational data sets measuring climate or hydrological variables over time, for example. That scientific knowledge produces trends in, for instance, temperature and rainfall and produces predictions for policy makers on how that might affect local people in years to decades important for planning and awareness. Actual climate changes (as rainfall, flooding or temperature) that affect how local farmer-fishers use resources in particular places and times, are more a result of changing patterns – such as timing, frequency and duration of those events and NOT from linear trends – increases or decreases – in them. Local populations are shifting livelihood strategies at a higher frequency, driven by incentives from several other factors like commodity prices, change in cultural consumption preferences, age and labor availability in addition to climate. This knowledge of action responses more specific to climate change and variation, captured and co-produced by scientists with local populations, is valuable when incorporated into state priorities and policies and non-state interventions to achieve adaptations that build resilience and reduce vulnerability to increasing shocks caused by climate change and globalization.

2015 Sustainability Science Best Paper Awards 

The winning papers were selected from papers published in 2015 excluding notes and comments, editorials, message articles, and papers authored by a member of the committee. From a total of 67 eligible papers in 2015, three winners (one outstanding paper and two honorable mentions) were chosen in keeping with our selection process. Free access will also be granted to the winning papers for 2 months beginning with the publication of the January 2017 issue.
Read the editorial article ‘Recognizing our authors’ here

Most outstanding article 

Roland W. Scholz, Gerald Steiner

The real type and ideal type of transdisciplinary processes: part II - what constraints and obstacles do we encounter in practice?
Sustain Sci (2015) 10:653–671
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In this comprehensive review, the authors identify and discuss the challenges of linking Mode I transdisciplinarity (defined as disciplinary causation) and Mode II transdisciplinary (sustainability knowledge and action for system transitioning where science and practice collaborate on equal footing). As their point of reference the authors use 40 transdisciplinary studies in the areas of urban and regional systems, organizations, and policy processes that were conducted by members of the ITdNet network of universities. The authors draw on their immense research experience to pose six fundamental questions that shape Mode II transdisciplinary research projects:
1. What is the added value of engaging in transdisciplinary processes for science and practice?
2. What do cost efficiency and evaluations of transdisciplinary processes look like?
3. What is the added value of transdisciplinary processes compared to other conceptions that
promote the interface of science and society?
4. Do transdisciplinary projects create a new type of legal entity?
5. Transdisciplinary processes as a tool for democracy - what conflicting roles do participants in these processes face?
6. Evaluating outcomes for practice and for science: Does the difference between normal and postnormal science matter?

Honorable mention 

Li Xu, Dora Marinova, Xiumei Guo

Resilience thinking: a renewed system approach for sustainability science
Sustain Sci (2015) 10:123–138
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In the past few decades, resilience thinking has established its value in dealing with disturbances and uncertainties regarding climate change, the state of our environment and the way people live. In this paper, the authors examine the contribution of resilience in understanding sustainability. Through quantitative and qualitative surveys of the existing literature, the paper illustrates the growing importance of resilience and its integration into the interdisciplinary area of sustainability studies. In the quantitative analysis, the authors present trends in resilience research based on publications retrieved from key databases. They indicate that resilience research has experienced a dramatic increase in environmental-related contexts in the last decades and continues to be on the rise. Economic resilience attracted the least number of cited publications while the importance of social resilience and integrated sustainability context publications has recently increased.
Using qualitative analysis, the authors further investigate popular papers to explore the links between resilience and sustainability. The key findings are as follows. Resilience and sustainability share some similarities in terms of their objectives, starting points and dependency relationship but also differ in the ways they view intergenerational equity, the desirable state, and culture, as well as their respective methodological approach. Resilience indicators have limitations related to unpredictability; in addition, there are gaps in our understanding of how they would behave in more complex situations. Indicators should be suitable as early warning signals in future stochastic shocks. Furthermore, a well-defined threshold can be used to recognize whether the resilience of a system is increasing or decreasing thereby determining how near to or far from sustainability it is. In relation to management, the authors find that co-management based on engaging stakeholders, linking social networks and enhancing social mechanisms by promoting local and scientific ecological knowledge, facilitating social learning and establishing flexible institutions is a key aspect of building resilience for sustainability.

Scott Victor Valentine

What lurks below the surface? Exploring the subjectivity of sea level rise economic impact assessments
Sustain Sci (2015) 10:139–147
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It is a well-accepted maxim that policymaking should be well-informed by science. However, the scientific uncertainties that are inherent to complex adaptive systems and highly subjective assumptions made when translating scientifically based impact projections into economic terms make the entire economic modelling process subject to interpretative biases. In this paper, assumptions underpinning sea level rise projections, damage assessment, and economic valuation are carefully scrutinized to demonstrate just how subjective the process is. The conclusion of this analysis is that in order to extract value from such studies and ‘‘speak truth to power’’, it is essential that critical assumptions associated with impact analyses be transparently disclosed to allow the users of such assessments to fully understand their limitations.

2014 Sustainability Science Best Paper Awards 

The winning papers were selected from papers published in 2014 excluding notes and comments, editorials, message articles, and papers authored by a member of the committee. From a total of 42 eligible papers in 2014, three winners (one outstanding paper and two honorable mentions) have been chosen following our selection process. Winning papers will also be available for free access for 2 months beginning with the publication of the July 2015 issue.
Read the editorial article ‘Recognizing our authors’ here

Most outstanding article 

Carina Moeller, Joachim Sauerborn, Peter deVoil, Ahmad M. Manschadi, Mustafa Pala, Holger Meinke

Assessing the sustainability of wheat-based cropping systems using simulation modelling: sustainability = 42?
Sustain Sci (2014) 9:1–16
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This study evaluates the role of simulation techniques for characterizing and quantifying agricultural sustainability, and the usefulness of the sustainability concept as a research criterion. The authors conducted a sustainability assessment of rain-fed wheat-based systems in the Middle East and North Africa. To assess consequences of alternative tillage systems, the authors evaluated seven sustainability indicators includingcrop yield, water-use efficiency, gross margin of wheat and chickpea, and the amounts of soil organic carbon across cycles of rotation. Simulated alternative management scenarios visualized whether management practices moved towards or away from sustainability goals compared to the reference scenario. The authors argue that vagueness is a core property of sustainability although individual system components, such as biophysical and chemical processes, can be numerically described. They also make the case that the “human experience of sustainability” goes beyond the numbers and is a function of perception, taking up the question of how to merge scientific knowledge with the needs and values of individual decision makers.

Honorable mention 

Julia M. Wittmayer, Niko Schäpke

Action, research and participation: roles of researchers in sustainability transitions
Sustain Sci (2014) 9: 483–496
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In sustainability science, the tension between more descriptive–analytical and more process-oriented approaches is receiving increasing attention. The latter entails a number of roles for researchers that have largely been neglected in the literature. Based on the rich tradition of action research and on a specific process-oriented approach to sustainability transitions (transition management), the authors establish an in-depth understanding of the activities and roles of researchers. This is done by specifying ideal-type roles that researchers take when dealing with key issues in creating and maintaining space for societal learning — a core activity in process-oriented approaches. These roles are change agent, knowledge broker, reflective scientist, self-reflexive scientist, and process facilitator. To better understand these ideal-type roles, they are used as a heuristic to explore a case of transition management in Rotterdam. In the analysis, the authors discuss the implications of this set of ideal-type roles for the self-reflexivity of researchers, role conflicts, and potentials, and for the changing role of the researcher and of science in general, advocating for action research for sustainability.

Bernardo B. N. Strassburg, Agnieszka E Latawiec, Anna Creed, Nga Nguyen, Gilla Sunnenberg, Lera Miles, Andrew Lovett, Lucas Joppa, Ralph Ashton, Jörn P. W. Scharlemann, Felipe Cronenberger, Alvaro Iribarrem

Biophysical suitability, economic pressure and land-cover change: a global probabilistic approach and insights for REDD+
Sustain Sci (2014) 9:129–141
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There has been a concerted effort by the international scientific community to understand the multiple causes and patterns of land-cover change to support sustainable land management. Here, the authors examined biophysical suitability, and a novel integrated index of “economic pressure on land” (EPL) to explain land cover in the year 2000, and estimated the likelihood of future land-cover change through 2050, including protected area effectiveness. Biophysical suitability and EPL explained almost half of the global pattern of land cover (R2 = 0.45), increasing to almost two-thirds in areas where a long-term equilibrium is likely to have been reached (e.g., R2 = 0.64 in Europe). The authors identify a high likelihood of future land-cover change in vast areas with relatively lower current and past deforestation (e.g., the Congo Basin). Further, simulated emissions highlight a crucial aspect of the ongoing REDD+ debate: if restricted to forests, “cross-biome leakage” would severely reduce REDD+ effectiveness for climate change mitigation. If forests were protected from deforestation but without measures to tackle the drivers of land-cover change, REDD+ would reduce only 30 % of total emissions from land-cover change. Fifty-five percent of emissions reductions from forests would be compensated by increased emissions in other biomes. These results suggest that, although REDD+ remains a very promising mitigation tool, implementation of complementary measures to reduce land demand is necessary to prevent this leakage.

2013 Sustainability Science Best Paper Awards 

The winning papers were selected from papers published in 2013 excluding note and comments, editorial, message article and papers authored by a member of the committee. From a total of 40 eligible papers in 2013 three winners (1 outstanding paper and 2 honorable mentions) have been chosen following our selection process. Winning papers will also be available free access for 2 months as of October issue publication.
Read the editorial article ‘Recognizing our authors’ here

Most outstanding article 

Claudia Kuenzer, Ian Campbell, Marthe Roch, Patrick Leinenkugel, Vo Quoc Tuan and Stefan Dech

Understanding the impact of hydropower developments in the context of upstream–downstream relations in the Mekong river basin
Sustain Sci (2013) 8:565–584
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Kuenzer and co-authors present a multi-faceted investigation of hydropower development in the world’s ninth largest river, the Mekong. Whereas previous studies have focused on the assumption that upstream hydropower project benefits result in negative downstream impacts, this paper investigates the regional relationships between stakeholders and the geographical, political, socio-economic, and physical settings in which hydropower projects are situated, concluding that winners and losers are not delineated on an upstream / downstream basis, but rather on the basis of vested interests. Those who most benefit from the projects include governments, investors, construction companies and operators.
The article is part review of previous media and scientific literature, and part presentation of original results. The authors find that dams impact downstream flood pulse variability as well as sediment load leading to erosion or saltwater intrusion. Impacts are also felt in important ecosystems and agricultural areas, some of which are sources of food to millions of basin inhabitants. However, at the dam sites themselves benefits to energy consumers are often countered by opposition from rural people who are displaced to make room for reservoir areas and who are worse off as a result. The authors find governments of downstream countries are often in favor of upstream dams. Thailand, for example, is eager to purchase the hydroelectricity generated from Chinese projects. In the end the interests of countries are not clear cut because of the complex economic interactions that are not felt proportionally by the population.
The authors are able to present this in-depth analysis in a style that is accessible, interesting and scientifically credible and that will find interest among a wide variety of this journal’s readers.

Honorable mentions 

Thaddeus R. Miller

Constructing sustainability science: emerging perspectives and research trajectories
Sustain Sci (2013) 8:279–293
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Sustainability science is a rapidly emerging transdisciplinary field aimed at conducting problem-driven research that links knowledge to social action. Over the last decade, research centers, academic departments and journals—including this one—have arisen to drive research and education concerning sustainability science. Miller’s overview article provides a timely analysis of this landscape and an opportunity for reflection on directions for future development.
Based on in-depth interviews with leading sustainability scientists in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan, the paper explores how researchers are bounding the normative, empirical and socio-political dimensions of sustainability. The author finds that several communities of sustainability scientists are emerging, with different implications for the future of the field. Sustainability scientists would do well to critically reflect on the results of this paper and create a space for a more reflective research agenda for sustainability.

Matthias Barth and Gerd Michelsen

Learning for change: an educational contribution to sustainability Science
Sustain Sci (2013) 8:103–119
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More than 20 years after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro and nearing the end of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014), the drive for sustainability is now more than ever a global challenge. In research and policy alike, the search for ways to improve the social capacity to guide interactions between nature and society toward a more sustainable future is seen as an important priority. At the same time it clearly remains a tremendous and daunting undertaking, particularly because the ‘ill-defined concept’ of sustainability does not offer clear pathways or specific solutions that need to be pursued; on the contrary, the transition towards sustainability entails constant negotiation and social learning processes. Consequently, education and learning must be seen as key to this achievement and it is educational science that can contribute to sustainability science by offering insights into the preconditions of and opportunities for learning and education—whether individual or social, in formal or informal settings. In this article the authors analyze the contribution educational science has to offer and the relationship between ‘use-inspired basic research’ on educational science on the one hand and sustainability science on the other. Their analysis identifies two complementary approaches:
- The ‘outside-in’ approach, which envisions sustainability influencing educational practice and the way the relationship between learning and teaching is viewed, both theoretically and in the social context.
- In an ‘inside-out’ approach, an overview is provided of how educational science can contribute to the field of sustainability science.
This overview of on-going developments and potential future contributions alike will further the debate in sustainability science and offer new insights into the understanding of both individual and social transformation processes, so as to ultimately broaden the variety of disciplinary contributions in sustainability science. In this way educational science may be able to assume a more significant role among the contributing disciplines than in the past.

2012 Sustainability Science Best Paper Awards 

The winning papers were selected from papers published in 2012 excluding notes and comments, editorials, message articles and papers authored by a member of the committee. From a total of 26 eligible papers in 2012 three winners (1 outstanding paper and 2 honorable mentions) have been chosen according to our selection procedure.

Outstanding article

Arnim Wiek, Barry Ness, Petra Schweizer-Ries, Fridolin S. Brand, and Francesca Farioli
From complex systems analysis to transformational change: a comparative appraisal of sustainability science projects
Sustain Sci (2012) 7(Supplement 1):5-24
Sustainability science is being developed in constructive tension between a descriptive–analytical and a transformational mode. The first is concerned with analyzing problems in coupled human–environment systems, whereas the second conducts research on practical solutions to those problems. Transformational sustainability research is confronted with the challenges of generating actionable knowledge, incorporating knowledge from outside academia, and dealing with different values and political interests. This study approaches the theory and promise of sustainability science through a comparative appraisal of five empirical sustainability science projects. We exemplarily appraise in how far sustainability science succeeds and fails in yielding solution options for sustainability problems based on an evaluative framework (that accounts for the particularities of sustainability science). The selected sustainability projects cover a range of topics (water, bioenergy, land use, solar energy, urban development), regions (from coastal to mountainous, from rural to urban areas, in several countries in Africa, Europe, and South and North America), spatial levels (from village to country levels), and research approaches. The comparative results indicate accomplishments regarding problem focus and basic transformational research methodology, but also highlight deficits regarding stakeholder participation, actionable results, and larger impacts. We conclude with suggestions on how to fully realize the potential of sustainability science as a solution-oriented endeavor, including advanced collaborative research settings, advances in transformational research methodologies, cross-case generalization, as well as reducing institutional barriers.

Honorable mentions 

Osamu Akashi and Tatsuya Hanaoka
Technological feasibility and costs of achieving a 50 % reduction of global GHG emissions by 2050: mid- and long-term perspectives
Sustain Sci (2012) 7:139–156
In this article we examine the technological feasibility of the global target of reducing GHG emissions to 50 % of the 1990 level by the year 2050. We also perform a detailed analysis of the contribution of low-carbon technologies to GHG emission reduction over mid- and long-term timeframes, and evaluate the required technological cost. For the analysis we use AIM/Enduse[Global], a techno-economic model for climate change mitigation policy assessment. The results show that a 50 % GHG emission reduction target is technically achievable. Yet achieving the target will require substantial emission mitigation efforts. The GHG emission reduction rate from the reference scenario stands at 23 % in 2020 and 73 % in 2050. The marginal abatement cost to achieve these emission reductions reaches $150/tCO2-eq in 2020 and $600/tCO2-eq in 2050. Renewable energy, fuel switching, and efficiency improvement in power generation account for 45 % of the total GHG emission reduction in 2020. Non-energy sectors, namely, fugitive emission, waste management, agriculture, and F-gases, account for 25 % of the total GHG emission reduction in 2020. CCS, solar power generation, wind power generation, biomass power generation, and biofuel together account for 64 % of the total GHG emission reduction in 2050. Additional investment in GHG abatement technologies for achieving the target reaches US$ 6.0 trillion by 2020 and US$ 73 trillion by 2050. This corresponds to 0.7 and 1.8 % of the world GDP, respectively, in the same periods. Non-Annex I regions account for 55 % of the total additional investment by 2050. In a sectoral breakdown, the power generation and transport sectors account for 56 and 30 % of the total additional investment by 2050, respectively.
Daniel J. Lang, Arnim Wiek, Matthias Bergmann, Michael Stauffacher, Pim Martens, Peter Moll, Mark Swilling, and Christopher J. Thomas
Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges
Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):25–43
There is emerging agreement that sustainability challenges require new ways of knowledge production and decision-making. One key aspect of sustainability science, therefore, is the involvement of actors from outside academia into the research process in order to integrate the best available knowledge, reconcile values and preferences, as well as create ownership for problems and solution options. Transdisciplinary, community-based, interactive, or participatory research approaches are often suggested as appropriate means to meet both the requirements posed by real-world problems as well as the goals of sustainability science as a transformational scientific field. Dispersed literature on these approaches and a variety of empirical projects applying them make it difficult for interested researchers and practitioners to review and become familiar with key components and design principles of how to do transdisciplinary sustainability research. Starting from a conceptual model of an ideal–typical transdisciplinary research process, this article synthesizes and structures such a set of principles from various strands of the literature and empirical experiences. We then elaborate on them, looking at challenges and some coping strategies as experienced in transdisciplinary sustainability projects in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Asia. The article concludes with future research needed in order to further enhance the practice of transdisciplinary sustainability research.

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    The journal Sustainability Science offers insights into interactions within and between nature and the rest of human society, and the complex mechanisms that sustain both. The journal promotes science based predictions and impact assessments of global change, and seeks ways to ensure that such knowledge can be understood by society and be used to strengthen the resilience of global natural systems (such as ecosystems, ocean and atmospheric systems, nutrient cycles), social systems (economies, governments, industry) and human systems at the individual level (lifestyles, health, security, and human values).

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