Sustainability Science: Towards A Sustainable World


Sustainability is no longer a political/scientific endeavor but rather a crucial goal sought after by contemporary humanity. The actual meaning of “sustainability” may vary from one field to another; in other words, the end-product of one field may conflict with the other. For example, if sustainability for one field means protecting existing ecosystems, it means satisfying human needs first for the other. The ethical dimension of sustainability, thus, causes confusion for its achievement.

To cover that dilemma, a comparatively young field of research has emerged; namely “sustainability science”. It roots back to academic discussions and the United Nations reports in the 1980s and early 1990s within countries collaborating to achieve sustainable development. Later on, the field was officially introduced and further developed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002, and received great political success.

Sustainability science, similar to sustainability itself, primarily addresses how humans should use the Planet; in other words, the human moral bond to the world. A field by definition advances understanding of natural and social systems, and how their interactions affect and form a challenge for achieving sustainability. It integrates knowledge from all areas, including social and human sciences. This field is defined, hence, by the problems it addresses rather than the disciplines it employs.

Upon bringing sustainability science to the table, several scientists found it difficult to measure and conceptualize sustainable development, and to make it a subject of scientific inquiry. However, dedicated publications and networks were established later on, and distinct sustainability science curricula were created at several research institutions, universities with Majors and Graduate degrees, and even schools devoted to training a new generation of sustainability scientists.

Being characterized by its solution-oriented approach, sustainability science as a field of inquiry leads the research agenda of addressing grand development challenges. As per the National Research Council report published in 1999, sustainability science shall meet the needs of present and future generations to sustain the Planet’s life support systems, while “substantially reducing hunger and poverty”.

In sustainability science, the discussion of “well-being” frequently emphasizes hunger eradication, poverty alleviation, improving access to clean water, amongst other topics carrying forth the original values of sustainable development. Likewise, sustainability science is recently providing special attention to sustainability problems; such as mitigating pressures on climate change, conserving ecosystem services, and protecting biodiversity. Hence, sustainability science approach is essential for effective decision-making for global sustainability.

Good development for people

Science and technology education plays an important role in sustainable development, and finding sustainable solutions requires new advances in science, discoveries, and innovations. However, enhancing scientific literacy is a main goal of school science curricula, and the main purpose of science and technology education is preparing students for scientific studies at the university only.

This fact needs to be examined in terms of its relativity to the society and, hence, sustainable development. Ecologist William C. Clark proposes that sustainability science “serves the need for advancing both knowledge and action by creating a dynamic bridge between the two”. In other words, the goal of science and technology education should rather be acquainting young people with the tools to use scientific in knowledge in their everyday lives and improving it.

As such, to embrace sustainable development within science education, it needs to involve a personal approach in the curricula that appeal to emotions towards local issues. The learning needs to become more meaningful and useful. It needs also to show a clear balance between “doing and action”, where education quality should be measured by student abilities rather than by following the instructions.

Good development for the planet too

The Earth is our home, but we are not giving it much love and care as it deserves. Here comes our role towards such an amazing place; we need to do our part and act on reversing the damage we have done. It is no longer a matter of a problem to occur in coming years, but as science says: “It is right around the corner!”

Sustainable science education shall enhance and change people’s behaviors towards Earth. Long-term, cross-scale, and multi-institutional sustainability science collaborations show that knowledge and action together can advance technical and policy solutions to confront grand challenges and promote sustainability now and in the future.

Science has a commitment towards the society to fulfil; nevertheless, a vigorous connection between knowledge and action is needed. Today, sustainability science is at the forefront of global efforts to end sustainability problems; not only hunger, poverty, and inequality, but also climate change, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem degradation. We need to support this field and promote it more—in the Arab region too—to understand the interactions between people and their environment, towards achieving a sustainable world.


Allen Thompson, The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics

Cover Image by on Freepik

About Us

SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
Continue reading

Contact Us

P.O. Box 138, Chatby 21526, Alexandria, EGYPT
Tel.: +(203) 4839999
Ext.: 1737–1781

Become a member

© 2024 | Bibliotheca Alexandrina