Sustainability Science

, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 933–956 | Cite as

A methodological approach for the design of sustainability initiatives: in pursuit of sustainable transition in China

  • Nasrin R. KhaliliEmail author
  • Weiquan Cheng
  • Abagail McWilliams
Special Feature: Original Article Sustainability Science and Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Feature: Sustainability Science and Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals


The foundation of sustainability science is the effort to understand the fundamental interactions between nature and society, and to guide these interactions along sustainable trajectories (Miller et al. Sustain Sci 9(2):240–246, 2014). More importantly, sustainability science aims at creating knowledge needed to improve relevancy and quality of sustainability decision-making processes through broader representation of knowledge and values. This study contributes to the sustainability science literature in the areas of strategic planning and decision-making. Both the values and the role of decision-making science in promoting sustainability are examined through the design of a strategic framework and application of a graphical multi-agent decision-making model (GMADM). This approach allows for analysis, valuation, and ranking of potential sustainability initiatives according to their projected benefits and gains for organizations and for society. The model is structured on three interrelated pillars: (I) stakeholder views and concerns (government, industry, academic institutions); (II) sustainable development trends and requirements (World Bank data); and (III) valuations of the benefits expected from sustainability efforts. The framework is applied to case studies of Shandong and Guangdong provinces in China. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of data obtained from three groups of stakeholders in each province confirmed the utility of the proposed decision-making approach for promoting sustainable transition in China. Results also demonstrated the convenience and effectiveness of the proposed framework for guiding organizations’ efforts toward optimizing their sustainability initiatives while supporting regional economic growth and sustainable development policies.


Decision-making science Graphical multi-agent decision-making model Social responsibility Stakeholders Sustainability science 



The authors wish to thank participants in the survey for their contributions towards and participation in discussions regarding the topics in the article. The authors are also acknowledging the great work done by Ms. Ying Zhang, Mr. Xike Cheng, and Mr. Yilong Luo during data collection in China.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nasrin R. Khalili
    • 1
    Email author
  • Weiquan Cheng
    • 2
  • Abagail McWilliams
    • 3
  1. 1.Environmental Management and Sustainability Program, Stuart School of BusinessIllinois Institute of TechnologyChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Stuart School of BusinessIllinois Institute of TechnologyChicagoUSA
  3. 3.College of Business AdministrationUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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