Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Bridging barriers to advance global sustainability

Academic enterprises seeking to support society’s efforts to achieve global sustainability need to change their legacy reward systems. We need new structures to foster knowledge that is deeply integrated across disciplines and co-produced with non-academic stakeholders.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1


  1. Miller, T. R. et al. Sustain. Sci. 9, 239–246 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Boahene, K. Land Degrad. Dev. 9, 247–258 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Amy, G. et al. Desalination 401, 16–21 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Weber, E. U. Clim. Change 77, 103–120 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education Sustainable Urban Systems: Articulating a Long-Term Convergence Research Agenda (The National Science Foundation, 2018);

  6. National Research Council Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond (National Academies Press, Washington DC, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Dedeurwaerdere, T. Sustainability 5, 3783–3801 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Brandt, P. et al. Ecol. Econ. 92, 1–15 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Sharp, P. A. et al. The Third Revolution: The Convergence of the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Washington DC, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Hoffman, A. & Axson, J. Examining Interdisciplinary Sustainability Institutes at Major Research Universities: Innovations in Cross-Campus and Cross-Disciplinary Models (Univ. Michigan, AnnArbor, MI, 2017).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  11. Mirtl, M. et al. Sci. Total Environ. 626, 1439–1462 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Reilly, A. H. & Hynan, K. A. Bus. Horiz. 57, 747–758 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Bentley, P. J., Gulbrandsen, M. & Kyvik, S. High. Educ. 70, 689–709 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Leahey, E. Am. Sociol. Rev. 72, 533–561 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Schellnhuber, H. J. Nature 402, 19–23 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The development of this opinion arose from discussions held during the International Forum on ‘Re-thinking interdisciplinary research for global sustainability’ organized by Nature Sustainability and Tsinghua University from 14 to 16 January 2018, in Beijing, China. The authors thank the organizers of the workshop and fellow participants for lively discussions on the nature and role of sustainability research. Any opinions, findings and conclusions expressed in this opinion piece are those of the authors and not meant to represent the views of any supporting institution.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Elena G. Irwin or Patricia J. Culligan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Irwin, E.G., Culligan, P.J., Fischer-Kowalski, M. et al. Bridging barriers to advance global sustainability. Nat Sustain 1, 324–326 (2018).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing