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Three ways of understanding social transformations to sustainability

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.

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This knowledge brief is based on Scoones, I. et al. (2020). ‘Transformations to sustainability: combining structural, systemic and enabling approaches.’ Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 42: 65–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2019.12.004


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knowledge briefSocial changeSolutionstransformation