Three ways of understanding social transformations to sustainability

  • Published 12/03/21

This knowledge brief was published by the International Science Council’s Transformations to Sustainability programme.

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The enormity, complexity and urgency of the global targets enshrined in the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are widely acknowledged. However, even with calls for transformations to sustainability resounding around the globe, it is often not clear what should be transformed, by and for whom, and how. There are considerable gaps in our understanding of how knowledge about transformation can inform intentional change towards environmentally sustainable and socially just goals. The scientific literature points to three main ways of conceptualizing and approaching research and action towards transformations to sustainability, which can be described as: (1) structural, (2) systemic and (3) enabling. Research on and efforts to achieve transformations to sustainability can draw on the strengths of these contrasting but complementary approaches.

International Science Council

This Knowledge Brief, published by theĀ Transformations to Sustainability programme, is based on a peer-reviewed article that provides an overview of different conceptions of transformations and their respective strengths and weaknesses. It features knowledge from theĀ PATHWAYS network, which was part on the first phase of the Transformations to Sustainability programme.

It is part of a series of knowledge briefs which synthesize findings from recent research papers on transformations into an accessible format, with the aim of opening up the latest transformations research to a wider audience.