The United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development, held on 25-27 September 2015 in New York, adopted the post-2015 development agenda and a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are outlined in the document “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. This Agenda, according to the UN, is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, which seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. It contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, which demonstrate both a vision and an ambition. It seeks to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve. The document “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” also clearly show the need for an integrated handling of the three main dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.
There is a world consensus in relation to the fact that Sustainability Science, i.e. a branch of science concerned with an integrated view of the three main dimensions of sustainable development, can provide an important contribution in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Even though in the past the potential of Sustainability Science has been largely overlooked – some say underestimated – it is clear that it can provide a key contribution to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, more specifically, the realisation of the vision set at the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The majority of European universities are engaged with the theme “Sustainable Development”, but with different degrees of depth: some have sustainability as a central part of their teaching, research and operations, some have the theme as one of the many areas of activities, whereas others are just getting started. But in all of them, there is a desire to expand their teaching, to enhance their research, PhD training and perform further education programmes on matters related to sustainable development.
There is at present in Europe no single organization or setting, which coordinates efforts in the field of sustainability science teaching and research on the continent, in an integrated way. Yet, much could be gained if the extensive body of knowledge, expertise and resources which European universities currently have available, could be consolidated, with a view to strengthening their profiles, activities, and scientific outputs. It is on the basis of the need to address this gap, that the “European School of Sustainability Science and Research” (ESSSR) has been created.