ESA honors Jianguo Liu and colleagues with the 2017 Sustainability Science Award for their review of systems integration for global sustainability

The Sustainability Science Award recognizes the authors of the scholarly work that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.

Jianguo ‘Jack’ Liu visits Wolong Nature Reserve for giant pandas (Sichuan Province, China) in 2013. Dr. Liu is the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and director of the Michigan State University Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. He and his collaborators have been working on pandas and people for more than two decades and have contributed to the panda recovery that led to its recent removal from the endangered species list. Credit: Sue Nichols

Jianguo ‘Jack’ Liu visits Wolong Nature Reserve for giant pandas (Sichuan Province, China) in 2013. Dr. Liu is the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and director of the Michigan State University Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. He and his collaborators have been working on pandas and people for more than two decades and have contributed to the panda recovery that led to its recent removal from the endangered species list. Credit: Sue Nichols.

ESA recognizes Jianguo Liu, Harold Mooney, Vanessa Hull, Steven J. Davis, Joanne Gaskell, Thomas Hertel, Jane Lubchenco, Karen C. Seto, Peter Gleick, Claire Kremen, and Shuxin Li with the 2017 Sustainability Science Award for their research review “Systems integration for global sustainability” published in Science in February 2015.

Achieving sustainability, the effort to meet the current needs of Earth’s human population while securing natural resources for future generations, is a massive global task. Research and management projects in sustainability often focus on specific resources, like water or food, or individual problems, like invasive species, pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Researchers may approach questions about sustainability from the perspective of medicine, engineering, social or environmental sciences. Short-term studies may provide nuance, while long-term studies capture dynamic behavior. Small-scale solutions may not extend to larger geographic areas. But these components are interconnected.

Isolated approaches are not the most effective route to global sustainability and can even unintentionally undercut overall progress, say Jianguo Liu and colleagues. They review recent advances in five conceptual frameworks that attempt to guide systems integration: ecosystem services, environmental footprints, planetary boundaries, human-nature nexuses, and telecoupling.

The authors examine successful applications of different frameworks and evaluated strengths. They argue for the need to quantify spillover systems and feedbacks and to integrate analyses over multiple spatial and temporal scales. This will likely require the development of new analytical frameworks both to understand the social-ecological mechanisms involved and to inform management and policy decisions for global sustainability.


  • Liu, Jianguo (Jack), H. Mooney, V. Hull, S.J. Davis, J. Gaskell, T. Hertel, J. Lubchenco, K.C. Seto, P. Gleick, C. Kreman, and S. Li (2015) Systems integration for global sustainability. Science 347(6225), DOI: 10.1126/science.1258832
  • Telecoupling ecosystem services through China’s prodigious N-S Water Transfer Project. Ecotone 17 Feb 2016
  • Watch this space for announcements of more 2017 ESA awards — or find all 2017 award winners in the 1 March 2017 press release

Author: Liza Lester

ESA's Communications Officer came on board in the fall of 2011 after a Mass Media Science and Engineering fellowship with AAAS and a doctorate in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Washington.

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