Sustainability Science in a nutshell

Just started your career in sustainability science and looking for an overview of some of the key literature of sustainability science available? Or working in the field for a while and want to update your references? In an area as vibrant and rapidly growing as sustainability with a number of different disciplines contributing keeping track can sometimes be a bit tricky.

Of course, you can go for one of the introductions into sustainability that are already available. Monographs such as Blewitt’s (2008) Understanding sustainable development, Dresner’s (2008) The principles of sustainability or Harris’ (2007) Seeking sustainability in an age of complexity will give you an excellent overview of the rise of sustainable development and key principles of the concept. However, sustainability science only plays a minor part here.

Or you might want to have a look at the virtual Forum on Science and Innovation for Sustainable Development hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (another highly recommended resource, that I will talk about in more detail later). Here you can find some key documents that the editors of the page believe provide an essential overview of the current state of discussion on science and technology for sustainability.

But maybe you are looking for more. What about a handy collection of key readings, that showcase research in sustainability science and links different perspectives and disciplines? This is when one of the big names comes into play: Robert Kates, one of the founders of the sustainability science movement (at least in the US) and leading author of publications such as the groundbreaking introduction to sustainability science in Science  in 2001 and the US National Academy of Science’s seminal study Our Common Journey: A transition toward sustainability.

In 2010, he edited the first edition of Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology, published as a freely available working paper of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University. This reader is several things. It offers an easy-to-follow structure for the field of sustainability science that helps to capture the diversity of perspectives. It also provides context and background information with introductions and commentaries on the different papers Kates has selected. And last but not least it brings together publications that constitute the foundation of the field and will be valuable references for everyone engaged in sustainability science. But let’s see how Kates introduces the collection himself:

This reader is one possible set of materials for advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate students of sustainability science. It consists of links to 93 articles or book chapters from which appropriate readings and internet sources can be chosen. These are organized around three major domains of sustainability science: Part 1: an overview of sustainable development; Part 2: the emerging science and technology of sustainability; and Part 3: the innovative solutions and grand challenges of moving this knowledge into action.

The first edition of the Reader has been out since 2010 and it is supposed to be a work in progress. For future editions it is foreseen to incorporate feedback and suggestions from users for better and additional papers, which hopefully will make this an up-to-date resource for the coming years.

So if you are looking for a starting point to engage with key readings of sustainability science this collection might be worth checking out!

Kates, Robert W., ed. 2010. Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology. CID Working Paper No. 213. Center for International Development, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, December 2010. It is available here. Comments are welcome and should be directed to:

Other Readings

Blewitt J. 2008. Understanding sustainable development. Earthscan: London.

Dresner S. 2008. The principles of sustainability. Earthscan: London.

Harris G. 2007. Seeking sustainability in an age of complexity. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.


2 thoughts on “Sustainability Science in a nutshell

  1. Pingback: A cultural history of sustainability | Research for Sustainable Development

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