Sustainability research is growing faster than research overall

America leads in wind power

A study published by Elsevier and SciDev.Net says that research on sustainability is growing almost twice as much as research itself.

Research on sustainability has grown almost twice as fast as research overall each year between 2009 and 2013 (7.6% compared to an annual growth rate for all published research of 3.9%).

Sustainability research also receives 30% percent more citations than an average research paper, indicating the high relevance that scientific investigations have into the many facets of sustainability, such as clean energy, humane living conditions, and gender equality.

The findings are included in a new report, Sustainability Science in a Global Landscape, released on September 24 by Elsevier, a provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, and, a news source about science and technology for global development.

The report focuses on six themes of sustainability science: dignity, people, prosperity, planet, justice, and partnership. It examines global research output and citation impact, research collaboration among nations and sectors, and the interdisciplinary nature of research in the field between 2009 and 2013.

The report shows that, despite the strong interest in and reception of sustainability science, the level of interdisciplinary research in sustainability science is below world average and low-income countries contribute no more than 2% of the research output in sustainability science compared to 76% contributed by high-income countries.

Other findings presented in the report include:

  • The top five countries for research in sustainability science are: 1. USA, 2. UK, 3. China, 4. Germany and 5. Australia.
  • South Africa and countries in East Africa serve as network hubs connecting other African countries to the USA, Canada, and Western Europe.
  • Collaborations with developed countries are essential for low-income countries. The collaborations with developed countries contribute to the great majority of low-income countries’ research output in sustainability science.
  • Planet is the largest and second fastest growing theme with an annual growth rate of 10.7% in research output.
  • In order of output size, the USA’s research focus in sustainability science is first on the theme of People, second on Planet and Justice. China’s research focus is first on the theme of Planet and second on Prosperity, while the UK focuses on Planet, People and Justice.

“The report reveals a number of important features around the production and consumption of research which both the academic community and development practitioners should be aware of,” said Dr. Nick Ismael Perkins, Director of SciDev.Net. “We can be encouraged by the growth of research about sustainability because we need as many people thinking about this as urgently and as comprehensively as we can.”

The report is based on both quantitative and qualitative analyses led by Elsevier’s Analytical Services team, part of Elsevier Research Intelligence Solutions, and carried out in collaboration with SciDev.Net. The report is based on data from Elsevier’s Scopus abstract and citation database, and supplemented by input and interviews with key researchers in the field.

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