Editors: Olawale Olayide, Volker Mauerhofer

Dear reader,

We hereby like to bring you the latest information about recent activities and news about our Society and direct your attention to interesting developments and up-coming events.




1. Message from the President

2. ISDRS 2018 Conference

3. Call for applications

4. Launch of circular economy project and opportunity for PhD study

5. 20 PhD positions open for application

6. Announcements

7. 2017 ISDRS Best SD Research Article Award competition

8. News from Topic group 5d: Value chains and trade

9. Urban knowledge co-production for sustainability: How could ISDRS lead the way?

10. Can‘t see the wood for the trees?





1. Message from the President


The ISDRS has started the year of 2018 with a lot of new activities. In this Newsletter we will highlight these new initiatives and activities. 

But before I start with this, let me first express our gratitude to Len Blom, who has served as an excellent assistant to the Board for over 2 years. All members will somehow know him, either by mail contacts or meeting him in Lisbon or Bogota at the conference. Every organization needs a strong person behind the scenes, serving as its backboneLen has most certainly been this with great energy and effectiveness. We all thank him for his commitment. 


At the same time, we can also introduce Charlotte Mummery, our new assistant to the Board. On many communications you will now find her answering your questions and remarks. Welcome, Charlotte! 

 In our October 2017 Newsletter we announced that we would reorganize our ISDRS Topic Groups in such a way that they closely link to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). During the last two months we also reorganized our website pages for these topic groups. On the various webpages we now do provide a quick overview of the work in the topic groups, the past and upcoming tracks in the conferences, information about best knowledge resources on these topics and the links to the specific SDG’s and partner organizations. This work is not yet fully finished and will be of a recurring nature. We still appreciate further commitment of more ISDRS members: some of the essential topics are not yet covered by a small group of scholars working on those fields, like topics 2a (access to education), 4a (climate change), 5f (agriculture), 6c (infrastructure and transport), 7a (inequality and poverty) and 7b (employment and good work). We invite members active in these fields to connect to us.  

In this newsletter you will also see an essay by Marc Wolfram on how the ISDRS can best deal with the SDGs and their interconnections 

One other new activity to mention is our 2017 Best Article Award. The progress with this is discussed in this newsletter as well.  

 Meanwhile we are looking forward to the 2018 Conference in Italyin Messina 13-15th June, 2018We have a good number of abstracts accepted and expect some three to four hundred participants. Please be aware of the early bird registration deadline: March 28th, 2018.  

Lastly, do not forget to write down the date for the 25th ISDRS Conference in Nanjing, China which will be in June 26-28th, 2019, organised by the School of the EnvironmentNanjing University.  

Walter J.V. Vermeulen, President ISDRS 



2. ISDRS 2018 Conference 






The detailed programmes for our Sustainability Tours, taking place on Saturday 16th of June, are now available, for more information click here

The tours are an occasion to get in touch with the most important natural and cultural destinations near Messina and with the sustainable activities implemented for their preservation. Please book soon as there are limited places available. 


The full list of keynote speakers is available here.


For more information about the conference, including themes, tracks and all of the latest updates please click here.



3. Call for applications

Joint International Master in Sustainable Development

The Joint International Master's Programme in Sustainable Development offers an international and interdisciplinary approach to the intensively debated topic of sustainable development. The programme combines the strengths and expertise of eight partner universities from eight countries on three continents.

About the Programme

• Four semesters full time (two years or 120 ECTS) 

• Interdisciplinary approach with ten selectable specialization tracks from natural and social sciences 

• Degree awarding universities are University of Graz (Austria), Leipzig University (Germany), Utrecht University (Netherlands) and CaFoscari University Venice (Italy) 

• Specialization tracks are offered by the degree awarding universities and by the partner universities in Basel (Switzerland) and Hiroshima (Japan). 

• Supplementary modules may be chosen in the course of an optional mobility semester at TERI University (India) or Stellenbosch University (South Africa) 

Details and information on how to apply can be found here. 

Application deadline: March 19, 2018

Notification of acceptance: Last week of April.

The study year starts in October 2018.


4. Launch of circular economy project and opportunity for PhD study 

ISDRS track 5c: Circular economy, zero waste and innovation 

"CIRCULAR ECONOMY: SUSTAINABILITY IMPLICATIONS AND GUIDING PROGRESS (CRESTING)" is a newly launched Marie Skłodowska-Curie Educational Training Network, led by the University of Hull, UK.   Combining approaches and ideas from economic geography, supply chain management, corporate sustainability, sustainability indicators, eco-design and sustainability life cycle assessment this project is product of interdisciplinary discussion enabled by ISDRS activity.  CRESTING's primary purpose is the training of early stage researchers (ESR) in research and readiness for employment relating to the Circular Economy.  We are looking to recruit 15 highly qualified and enthusiastic ESRs to join the project and thereby study for a PhD (closing date March 28). The overall project is divided into 15 specific three-year research projects, each hosted by the first supervisor's university, these are the University of Hull, Utrecht University, University of Graz, University of  Technology Troyes, Universidade AbertaUniversidade NOVA de Lisboa, University "G. d'Annunzio" Pescara and University of Messina.  Partners to the project include the Universities of Ibadan and Nanjing, as well as governmental, private sector and non-profit organisations.   ESRs will spend time at their co-supervising University, as well as on secondment with other partner institutions. CRESTING therefore comprises an outstanding opportunity to gain knowledge, experience and build a personal network across different countries, academic fields and employment sectors.  For information of the project and details of the recruitment process please see here.  

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 765198. 

Dr Pauline Deutz, Geography, Environmental Sciences, University of Hull 

Closing date March 28



5. 20 PhD positions open for application


The University of Graz, Austria, is announcing 20 PhD positions (predoc) in the interdisciplinary doctoral programme "Climate Change—Uncertainties, Thresholds and Coping Strategies". The dissertation projects (2018 to 2022) will address two main research questions:

• What are, from the point of view of the disciplines in the DK, scientifically sound, efficient and ethically defensible strategies for a transition towards a low-carbon and climate-robust economy and society and how can the necessary qualitative transformation be politically and legally implemented and legitimated?

• How should we deal with uncertainties and risks related to hydro-meteorological changes, in particular extreme events, and their associated consequences?

The research will be organized in three overlapping clusters, each addressing main aspects of the shared research questions. This approach enables the early-stage DK researchers to realize - besides their disciplinary research - scientific originality and innovation, by being already from the outset more engaged in interdisciplinary co-operative work. 

For more information, please visit our page here.


6. Announcements 


Symposium: 2nd Symposium on Climate Change Adaptation in Africa. Date 14-15 May 2018. For more information click here. 


Summit: Call for abstracts: 9th Annual Ibadan Sustainable Development Summit, ISDS, Deadline: 25 May 2018: For more information click here


7. 2017 ISDRS Best SD Research Article Award competition: now in step 2! 


This year ISDRS organizes its first competition for the Best Article Award. We received 30 suggestions from our members. The procedure has three steps: first: members could propose best articles; second: the jury will make an assessment of these suggested articles and determine the short list of 10 nominations and; third: the members of the ISDRS can bring their votes on the nominations. The final decision will be announced at the 24th ISDRS Conference in Messina.  

 We are now in step 2: the jury is reviewing the 30 articles. It is a very interesting collection from a wide range of journals and (first) authors from14 different countries. Just some first facts and figures:  

When the short list is created you will all get an invitation to look at the 10 nominations and cast your vote. See for more details the webpage about the award. 


8. News from Topic group 5d: Value chains and trade 


Our topic group has organized tracks at the various recent ISDRS Conferences. We are happy to announce that we just published a special issue in  Business Strategy and the Environment  about Challenges of the Sustainability Transition in Global Trade, with the best final articles based on papers presented in the 5d track at the ISDRS conference in Lisbon in 2016. It addresses the more recent trend of moving beyond certification by organizing direct trade. Third party certification has been and still is one increasingly important way to improve production conditions of internationally traded products and commodities. But we also see a growing number of end-producers directly collaborating with producers of coffee, cacao. We discuss these developments and the existing evidence of success in this field in a  recent publication. 

More information on current trends in the field of Voluntary Sustainability Standards can also be found at the ITC Sustainability Map's  trends page. See also the latest data in the new  State of Sustainability Markets 2017. 

Valerie Nelson, Ximena Rueda and Walter Vermeulen  


9. Urban knowledge co-production for sustainabilityHow could ISDRS lead the way? 

Marc Wolfram, Ph.D.  

Associate Professor, Urban Transformations Lab, Department of Architecture, SKKU (Sunkyunkwan University), Seoul/Suwon, South Korea, 2/27/2018 

 There is a growing recognition today that cities and urbanization are a vital factor for humanity to achieve its sustainability aspirationsOver the past few years, international science and policy have finally acknowledged for this outstanding importance of urban dynamics - considering e.g. the adoption of SDG11 and the New Urban Agenda, the Urban Knowledge-Action Network of Future Earth, or recurring calls for a “new urban science” (Frantzeskaki et al., 2017; Groffman et al., 2017; McPhearson et al., 2016).  

Also ISDRS has focused one of its nine thematic clusters on urban issues and SDG11. This urban cluster now includes four topic groups that respectively deal with a) land use and planning, b) urban and rural development, c) infrastructure and transportation (additional focus on SDG9), and d) water and sanitation (additional focus on SDG6). 

Apparently, these are organizational choices that will affect the scope and type of knowledge developed. Considering that inter- and transdisciplinary knowledge co-production have been widely identified as a key prerequisite for urban sustainability transformations (Acuto et al., 2018; Dedeurwaerdere, 2014; Miller, 2015; SDG TF, 2018)however, this raises a fundamental question: How does ISDRS intend to support this prerequisite? Asking this question seems justified since the current configuration of clusters and topic groups bears two important risks: 

First, urban issues (and SDG11) are placed alongside the other eight ISDRS clusters. Focusing on “the urban” is however not a thematic or sectoral perspective, but one that foregrounds implications of densitydiversity, connectivity and place – essential parameters that characterize cities and urbanization, but that cut across all other themes (or SDGs). How does this cluster structure invite or even urge to address critical interactions that link urban dynamics to e.g. biodiversity, climate, energy, or production/consumption patterns 

Second, the four topic groups subdividing the urban theme are similarly deficient, leaving blind spots in the debate on urban dynamics in sustainable development (see above). But in addition, they re-create sectoral divides that have long been recognized as root causes of unsustainable urban development: Separating land use from water as well as from transport, and all of these issues from a cross-scalar perspective on urban-rural relationsHow can this work structure help to focus on and tackle complex urban sustainability challenges? 

To be sure, within ISDRS everyone supposedly agrees that everything is connected, and that any organizational division will somehow create boundaries. Nevertheless, it should be recalled that, while organizational structures can articulate and amplify the knowledge produced within them, they equally work in the opposite way - always creating path dependencies. Consequentlyit seems there is a need to discuss whether these are the right boundaries to introduce now within ISDRS in order to explore, explain and shape urban sustainability transformations – especially if the current organization appears to align with existing institutions in science and practice and their fragmented handling of system failures and dynamics. 

Some may in fact argufor deliberately mirroring these institutions in society: Colleges, research institutes, professional associations, academic journals, public administrations, etc. are still largely governed by disciplinary divides. Aligning with these can ensure easy identification of target audiences with a given ISDRS topic or track, and facilitate straightforward collaboration on topics already shared. Yet, this view tends to overlook both the undesirable stabilizing effect of reconfirming existing boundaries, and the urgency of creating new inter- and transdisciplinary system knowledge. 

Given the overall aims of ISDRS it seems there is a need to better enable and endorse novel exchanges and collaborations through the organizational structures createddrawing on collective prioritization. Three responses could help moving into this direction: 

• Redesign the current topic groups within the urban cluster: While smaller and more focused working groups are needed and desirable, their topics should be oriented at requirements and priorities for urban system transformation - not disciplines or policy domainsA crucial starting point would be to distinguish “urban regeneration” from “new urbanization”, given their very different conditions and dynamics. Subtopics should then equally relate to multiple clusters/SDGs, but figure high on the intervention agenda for urban transformation (e.g. “experimentation and learning”, “water-energy-food nexus”, “nature-based solutions”, etc.)These could be prioritized by the ISDRS community and should be reviewed regularly. 

• Interlink the urban cluster with all others: Given the overarching quantitative and qualitative relevance of cities and urbanization, the risk of “disciplining” urban issues must be avoided. On the contrary, it needs to be ensured that each cluster also reflects on its respective urban dimension and implications. Rather than assuming a flat network topology among all clusters/SDGs, their relations and hierarchies should thus be revisited (cf. Folke et al., 2016). Attributing a more central position to the urban cluster could then imply e.g. shared calls, tracks and topic groups with other clusters to address critical interactions. 

• Exploit the potentials of transdisciplinarityThe vital need for knowledge co-creation between science and diverse practice actors has been broadly discussed within ISDRS. Yet, real transdisciplinary work is still too rare both within the society and the broader field. While this clearly extends beyond the urban cluster, the necessity to address and involve practitioners could hardly be greater than here. Urban areas are the places where multiple actions for sustainability are ultimately implemented, thus offering vast opportunities for feedback and learning. This requires to conceive of new interfaces, formats and channels that could more effectively attract practitioners and facilitate dialogue on the topics prioritized. 

The above propositions are meant as a starting point for a discussion on how to deal with urban issues and dynamics within ISDRS. They do however also invite to reflect on the way in which the SDGs are addressed at present. For both, the upcoming annual conference in Messina offers an excellent opportunity. 



Acuto, M., Parnell, S., Seto, K.C., 2018. Building a global urban science. Nat. Sustain. 1, 2–4. 

Dedeurwaerdere, T., 2014. Sustainability science for strong sustainability. 

Folke, C., Biggs, R., Norström, A.V., Reyers, B., Rockström, J., 2016. Social-ecological resilience and biosphere-based sustainability science. Ecol. Soc. 21. 

Frantzeskaki, N., Broto, V.C., Coenen, L. (Eds.), 2017. Urban sustainability transitions, First Edition. ed, Routledge studies in sustainability transitions. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, New York. 

Groffman, P.M., Cadenasso, M.L., Cavender-Bares, J., Childers, D.L., Grimm, N.B., Grove, J.M., Hobbie, S.E., Hutyra, L.R., Darrel Jenerette, G., McPhearson, T., Pataki, D.E., Pickett, S.T.A., Pouyat, R.V., Rosi-Marshall, E., Ruddell, B.L., 2017. Moving Towards a New Urban Systems Science. Ecosystems 20, 38–43. 

McPhearson, T., Parnell, S., Simon, D., Gaffney, O., Elmqvist, T., Bai, X., Roberts, D., Revi, A., 2016. Scientists must have a say in the future of cities. Nature 538, 165–166. 

Miller, T.R., 2015. Reconstructing sustainability science: knowledge and action for a sustainable future. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY. 

SDG TF, 2018. SDG Transformations Forum [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 2.27.18). 


10. Can't see the wood for the trees? 

Joachim H. Spangenberg 1,2 and Josef Settele 2,3 

1 Sustainable Europe Research Institute SERI Germany, Vorsterstr. 97-99, 51103 Cologne, Germany,  

2 Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Dept. Community Ecology, 06120 Halle, Germany  

3 iDiv, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, 04103 Leipzig, Germany 

In the academic literature, there is an ongoing discussion about the pros and cons of forest biomass use for power plant fuel and its (lack of) carbon neutrality (e.g. Cornwall 2017 and the discussion of that paper). Indeed accounting for carbon recycling is far more complex than it seems, as declaring wood carbon neutral because replanting trees will fix the carbon again is an oversimplification of a complex social-environmental system. Understanding the potential role of carbon recycling by tree biomass requires taking into account not only a technological optionsclimatological necessities (according to the ambitious emission reduction targets following from the Paris Accord, full compensation of the emissions from incineration should be reached well before 2050), and the social, political and economic environment of the wood biomass to be used as power plant fuel, but also the environmental context. Trees are more than fixed carbon, and even old trees continue fixing carbon which is stored in the ground, something ignored in what should be the net carbon balanceIn particular, the extraction of non-timber woody biomass would have severe impacts on the systems, threatening to impede system stability and the prospects for future tree growth.  

This is the result of research in Austria, Switzerland and Germany (unfortunately most of it published in German, not in English). Already a decade ago, when wood fired power plants first took off in the EU, it has shown that this is equivalent to full tree extraction and has significant negative impacts on the ecosystem nutrient balance: every extraction of biomass from a forest reduces the nutrient inventory, and what is considered left-overs from wood production for lumber and timber, small branches, bark and leaves/needles, have a particularly high content of these. While they represent only a fraction of about a third of the total mass extraction, their removal increases the loss of N and P more than sixfold, and of K, Ca and Mg three to fivefold (Englisch 2007). While atmospheric deposition can compensate for the N deficit, it enhances the N/P imbalance, further reducing ecosystem stability and soil fertility. European experiences have long shown large scale P and Mg supply deficits emerging over the last 30 years, and a significant reduction of P, Mg and K in the trees. These deficits and the N/P imbalance were correlated with reduced timber growth rates (Flückinger, Braun 2009) 

If this factor is not duly taken into account, the wood biomass use may not only undermine the ecosystem stability, but also reduce tree growth, which in turn would reduce the re-fixation of carbon as assumed in the concept of carbon neutrality. It is a pity that long established insights published in other languages than English have such problems to find their way into the body of acknowledged scientific findings of the English speaking scientific and political communities. 


Cornwall, W. 2017. The burning question. Science 355(6329): 18-21. DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6320.18 

Englisch, M. 2007. Ökologische Grenzen der Biomassenutzung in Wäldern (Ecological limitations of biomass use in forests). BWF-Praxisinformationen 13: 8-10 (in German). 

Flückinger, W., Braun, S 2009. Nährstoffe im Wald lassen – oder rezyklieren(Leaving nutrients in the forests – or recycling them!). Wald und Holz 9/09: 30  33 (in German). 

Joachim H. Spangenberg is member of the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency. Josef Settele is co-chair of the IPBES Global Assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services. 



This newsletter is presented by the International Sustainable Development Research Society on a regular base to all her registered Followers and Green(+) members. If you want to receive this newsletter, please register here. 

Contributions to the newsletter and announcements of relevant activities are welcomed.

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Olawale Olayide, Volker Mauerhofer 

Followers and Green(+) members are invited to share innovative, creative and critical ideas about about the further enhancement of sustainable development in a short essay form. This would have a size of between 500-2000 words, follow the general rules of academic publishing (proper references etc.), but it would fill the gap between journal/conference abstracts and official journal publications.

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