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

Sander van der Leeuw, Arnim Wiek, John Harlow, James Buizer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-120
Number of pages6
JournalSustainability Science
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - Feb 2012


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Health(social science)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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