A systematic review of sustainability transformations stresses the need to focus on empirical cases and on methods

The concept of sustainability transformation is still used without many real-world examples.

Sustainability transformations have become a topical issue but it is a relatively new concept that highlights the need to change the direction of current societal development. There has been plenty of research in different fields that focus on social and environmental change, but they have used different concepts.

A new paper by UEP researchers Anna Salomaa and Sirkku Juhola studied sustainability transformations in academic literature. The idea for the study became topical during the KEMUT-project, when it was noticed that methods to assess transformation were not readily available.

As a result, they undertook a systematic literature review of multisectoral sustainability transformation studies to see whether researchers have assessed sustainability transformations empirically and with what methods. As a result, they found that sustainability transformations have been defined in many ways, but more focus has been placed on current unsustainability rather than on what the transformation process is and how it is identified to be taking place.

Also, they only found four real-world examples that assessed whether a sustainability transformation had taken place, and an additional twelve articles that had partially assessed for a fundamental transformation. Multiple methods to assess transformation were used, as well as various approaches to account for temporal dynamics and spatial focuses with many of the studies having an urban focus.

The authors further argue for the need for a critical discussion on methods assessing transformation and use of the concept. The focus on sustainability transformations is even more important, given the current global corona pandemic. As a result of the pandemic, there is a good opportunity to learn how and when people make radical changes in their life.

You can read the full paper “How to assess sustainability transformations: a review” by Anna Salomaa and Sirkku Juhola in Global Sustainability (open access).