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Transitioning Toward Sustainability: Advancing the Scientific Foundation: Proceedings of a Workshop (2016)

In 1999 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a landmark report, Our Common Journey: A Transition toward Sustainability, which attempted to “reinvigorate the essential strategic connections between scientific research, technological development, and societies’ efforts to achieve environmentally sustainable improvements in human well-being.” The report emphasized the need for place-based and systems approaches to sustainability, proposed a research strategy for using scientific and technical knowledge to better inform the field, and highlighted a number of priorities for actions that could contribute to a sustainable future.

The past 15 years have brought significant advances in observational and predictive capabilities for a range of natural and social systems, as well as development of other tools and approaches useful for sustainability planning. In addition, other frameworks for environmental decision making, such as those that focus on climate adaptation or resilience, have become increasingly prominent. A careful consideration of how these other approaches might intersect with sustainability is warranted, particularly in that they may affect similar resources or rely on similar underlying scientific data and models.

To further the discussion on these outstanding issues, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a workshop on January 14–15, 2016. Participants discussed progress in sustainability science during the last 15 years, potential opportunities for advancing the research and use of scientific knowledge to support a transition toward sustainability, and challenges specifically related to establishing indicators and observations to support sustainability research and practice. This report summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop.

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