Sustainability Science

, Volume 7, Supplement 1, pp 115–120 | Cite as

How much time do we have? Urgency and rhetoric in sustainability science

  • Sander van der Leeuw
  • Arnim Wiek
  • John Harlow
  • James Buizer
Special Feature: Note and Comment Sustainability science: bridging the gap between science and society


Sustainability challenges are multitudinous, urgent, and complex. They are beyond the capacities of our current institutions to address, caused by path-dependent behaviors, and require substantial change from systems with crippling inertia. These problems are born of large-scale industrial economic policy, the rise of materialism, and the supremacy of profit over sustainability. Currently, academia is poorly positioned to address sustainability problems because of anachronistic pedagogy, mismatched incentives, insufficient expertise, lack of personal commitment, and insular products and communication. What transformational methods for research and practice, which involve relevant communities throughout problem-solving processes in meaningful ways, does sustainability science offer? Though rhetoric outweighs real-world sustainability transitions so far, we argue that operationalizing the goals of the field, developing the necessary competencies, and seeking novel partnerships between society and the academy will position academic institutions to make a bigger impact on the transition to sustainability.


Sustainability science  Path dependency Institutional development Collaborative partnerships Actionable knowledge Real-world impact 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sander van der Leeuw
    • 1
    • 2
  • Arnim Wiek
    • 1
  • John Harlow
    • 1
  • James Buizer
    • 3
  1. 1.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Climate Adaptation and International Development, Institute of the EnvironmentUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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