Earth Day

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In honor of Earth Day 2019, here is a multidisciplinary selection of open access studies from SAGE journals on topics related to sustainability.

Mobile transitions: Exploring synergies for urban sustainability research (Affolderbach & Schulz, 2015)

Abstract. Urban sustainability approaches focusing on a wide range of topics such as infrastructure and mobility, green construction and neighbourhood planning, or urban nature and green amenities have attracted scholarly interest for over three decades. Recent debates on the role of cities in climate change mitigation have triggered new attempts to conceptually and methodologically grasp the cross-sectorial and cross-level interplay of enrolled actors. Within these debates, urban and economic geographers have increasingly adopted co-evolutionary approaches such as the social studies of technology (SST or ‘transition studies’). Their plea for more spatial sensitivity of the transition approach has led to promising proposals to adapt geographic perspectives to case studies on urban sustainability. This paper advocates engagement with recent work in urban studies, specifically policy mobility, to explore conceptual and methodological synergies. It emphasises four strengths of an integrated approach: (1) a broadened understanding of innovations that emphasises not only processes of knowledge generation but also of knowledge transfer through (2) processes of learning, adaptation and mutation, (3) a relational understanding of the origin and dissemination of innovations focused on the complex nature of cities and (4) the importance of individual actors as agents of change and analytical scale that highlights social processes of innovation. The notion of urban assemblages further allows the operationalisation of both the relational embeddedness of local policies as well as their cross-sectoral actor constellations.

Exploring Discourses of Sustainable Development: A Flexible Framework (Borne, 2013)

Abstract. This paper outlines a research process that explores the relationship between Ulrich Becks reflexive modernity and sustainable development. Sustainable development is becoming increasingly prolific throughout society yet there remains a lack of empirical work that is capable of exploring the complexity and ambiguity of the terms meaning. There is a significant need to design and implement effective methodological approaches that are capable of addressing the highly complex, non linear and ambiguous issue that relate to sustainable development. The paper will detail a research methodology that attempts to grapple with this complexity.

Constructing and mobilizing ‘the consumer’: Responsibility, consumption and the politics of sustainability (Evans, Welch, & Swaffield, 2017)

Abstract. This paper advances critical perspectives on the governance of sustainable consumption by exploring the ways in which ‘the consumer’ is constructed and mobilized by strategic actors and organizations. Existing approaches draw on theories of practice to emphasize the limitations of governing through behaviour change. Whilst this provides a welcome corrective to the overemphasis on individual responsibility in sustainability research and policy, fundamental questions concerning changes over time, variation across substantive domains, and the mechanisms through which authorities and intermediaries responsibilize ‘the consumer’ are neglected. By way of rejoinder, we suggest that attention should be paid to the project of sustainable consumption and – following Clive Barnett, Nick Clarke and colleagues’ analysis of ethical consumption campaigning – the ways in which it engages consuming subjects and mobilizes the rhetorical figure of ‘the consumer’. To illustrate, we present the findings from an empirical study – drawing on documentary sources as well as 38 key informant interviews – of how the challenge of food waste reduction has been framed, interpreted and responded to in the UK. Our analysis suggests that initial responses to the issue made claims on the responsibilities of individuals as consumers, but that this quickly gave way to an emergent sense of shared and distributed responsibility. To conclude we argue for the importance of exploring specific instances of sustainable consumption governance and their underlying political rationalities, as well as periodizing these accounts.

A Human Rights Lens on Full Employment and Decent Work in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (Frey & MacNaughton, 2016)

Abstract. On September 25, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the blueprint for a global partnership for peace, development, and human rights for the period 2016 to 2030. The 2030 agenda follows on the heels of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2001, which set the international development agenda for the period 2001 to 2015. This article uses a human rights lens to demonstrate that the MDGs and the SDGs have not addressed full employment and decent work in a manner that is consistent with the Decent Work Agenda of the International Labour Organization and international human rights legal obligations of the UN member countries. It concludes that the new 2030 development agenda sadly aligns with market-based economic growth strategies rather than the realization of the human rights to full employment and decent work for all.

 Contributions of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) to Quality Education: A Synthesis of Research (Laurie, Nonoyama-Tarumi, McKeown, & Hopkins, 2016)

Abstract. This research is a synthesis of studies carried out in 18 countries to identify contributions of education for sustainable development (ESD) to quality education. Five common questions were used for the interviews in each country to solicit education leaders and practitioners’ views on the outcome and implementation of ESD. The analysis revealed that major themes repeated across the 18 studies, showing that ESD contributes in many ways to quality education in primary and secondary schools. Teaching and learning transforms in all contexts when the curriculum includes sustainability content, and ESD pedagogies promote the learning of skills, perspectives and values necessary to foster sustainable societies. The research also identified the need to integrate ESD across all subjects, to provide professional development for teachers to ensure ESD policy implementation and to adopt ESD management practices to support ESD in the curriculum in order to broaden ESD across countries.

The Pyramid Fallacy: Self-Organizing Decentralized Open Systems for Sustainable Collective Action (Lotan Marcus, 2018)

Abstract. The ubiquity of hierarchical structure has resulted in scholars rarely focusing on its possible influence when investigating the motives and processes underlying collective action. In terms of efficiency, it is generally suggested that hierarchy is an easily accessible way of thinking, low effort, and perhaps unavoidable. The article builds on scholarship pertaining to three unique models that challenge the prevailing hierarchical structure: hunter-gatherer societies, open source projects, and transition-town initiatives. By linking the individual, collective, and organizational levels, the article suggests that in the social arena, a shift away from the prevailing hierarchical structure would result in sustainable collective action and greater potential for a cooperative society. The article offers a theoretical framework for self-organizing decentralized open systems (SODOS), prescribing the necessary conditions that effect a significant shift in human motivation stemming from the interpersonal dynamic. Avenues for implementation of the suggested framework are discussed.

Toward a Validated Competence Framework for Sustainable Entrepreneurship (Ploum, Blok, Lans, & Omta, 2017)

Abstract. Knowledge, skills, and attitudes to manage sustainable development have become significant components of different career paths. Previous research has explored which competencies are needed for future change agents in the field of sustainable development. Sustainable entrepreneurship can be seen as a promising work context in which these competencies are truly at the forefront and enacted. Several researchers have compiled frameworks of key competencies. However, their work is exploratory in nature and a more in-depth analysis of these frameworks is called for. In this study, an existing competence framework for sustainable entrepreneurship was tested in terms of construct validity, among 402 would-be entrepreneurs. The results suggest the inclusion of six competencies, which constitute a competence framework with a good model fit. Furthermore, a new combination of two existing competencies is proposed. This study has important implications for the debate on which competencies for sustainable entrepreneurship are essential on theoretical and empirical grounds.

Developing and testing the Urban Sustainable Development Goal’s targets and indicators – a five-city study (Simon et al., 2015)

Abstract The campaign for the inclusion of a specifically urban goal within the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was challenging. Numerous divergent interests were involved, while urban areas worldwide are also extremely heterogeneous. It was essential to minimize the number of targets and indicators while still capturing critical urban dimensions relevant to human development. It was also essential to test the targets and indicators. This paper reports the findings of a unique comparative pilot project involving co-production between researchers and local authority officials in five diverse secondary and intermediate cities: Bangalore (Bengaluru), India; Cape Town, South Africa; Gothenburg, Sweden; Greater Manchester, United Kingdom; and Kisumu, Kenya. Each city faced problems in providing all the data required, and each also proposed various changes to maximize the local relevance of particular targets and indicators. This reality check provided invaluable inputs to the process of finalizing the urban SDG prior to the formal announcement of the entire SDG set by the UN Secretary-General in late September 2015.


Affolderbach, J., & Schulz, C. (2015). Mobile transitions: Exploring synergies for urban sustainability research. Urban Studies, 53(9), 1942-1957. doi:10.1177/0042098015583784

Borne, G. (2013). Exploring discourses of sustainable development: A flexible framework. Methodological Innovations Online, 8(2), 90-106. doi:10.4256/mio.2013.016

Evans, D., Welch, D., & Swaffield, J. (2017). Constructing and mobilizing ‘the consumer’: Responsibility, consumption and the politics of sustainability. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 49(6), 1396-1412. doi:10.1177/0308518X17694030

Frey, D. F., & MacNaughton, G. (2016). Aa human rights lens on full employment and decent work in the 2030 sustainable development agenda. SAGE Open, 6(2), 2158244016649580. doi:10.1177/2158244016649580

Laurie, R., Nonoyama-Tarumi, Y., McKeown, R., & Hopkins, C. (2016). Contributions of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) to quality education: A synthesis of research. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 10(2), 226-242. doi:10.1177/0973408216661442

Lotan Marcus, K. (2018). The the pyramid fallacy: Self-organizing decentralized open systems for sustainable collective action SAGE Open, 8(2), 2158244018778322. doi:10.1177/2158244018778322

Ploum, L., Blok, V., Lans, T., & Omta, O. (2017). Toward a validated competence framework for sustainable entrepreneurship. Organization & Environment, 31(2), 113-132. doi:10.1177/1086026617697039

Simon, D., Arfvidsson, H., Anand, G., Bazaz, A., Fenna, G., Foster, K., . . . Wright, C. (2015). Developing and testing the Urban Sustainable Development Goal’s targets and indicators – a five-city study. Environment and Urbanization, 28(1), 49-63. doi:10.1177/0956247815619865

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