Handbook of Sustainability Assessment
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Handbook of Sustainability Assessment

Edited by Angus Morrison-Saunders, Jenny Pope and Alan Bond

The Handbook of Sustainability Assessment introduces the theory and practice of sustainability assessment and showcases the state-of-the-art research. The aim is to provide inspiration and guidance to students, academics and practitioners alike and to contribute to the enhancement of sustainability assessment practice worldwide. It emphasises how traditional impact assessment practices can be enhanced to contribute to sustainable outcomes. Featuring original contributions from leading sustainability assessment researchers and practitioners, it forms part of the Research Handbooks on Impact Assessment series.
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Chapter 14: An introduction to sustainability science and its links to sustainability assessment

Michelle Audouin, Mike Burns, Alex Weaver, David Le Maitre, Patrick O’Farrell and Rudolph du Toit


Science is well positioned to respond to the challenge of sustainable development. However, its potential in this regard has arguably not been met (Burns and Weaver, 2008). Burns and Weaver (2008) attribute this partly to the avoidance within traditional science of the normative, or value-based, aspects of sustainable development, which are at odds with the positivism and value neutrality on which classical science rests. This results in traditional science encountering significant challenges in influencing the politics of sustainable development consistently (Burns and Weaver, 2008). Kates et al. (2001) state that during the 1980s and early 1990s much of the scientific community became distanced from the political processes that were moulding society’s sustainable development agenda. However, this is now changing as the global scientific community actively engages in multiple initiatives to promote a transition to sustainability (Kates et al., 2001). The run-up to the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (e.g. Friibergh Workshop on Sustainability Science, 2000; Kates et al., 2001), and special sessions at this meeting, articulated a challenge to the scientific community. This created an important opportunity to reconnect science to political efforts to achieve sustainable development and to seek agreement on how scientists may contribute more effectively to sustainability (Friibergh Workshop on Sustainability Science, 2000; Burns and Weaver, 2008). This opportunity led to the emergence of sustainability science.

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