Our group discussion was focused on how the concept of Sustainability Science is applied to identify unsustainable situations and improve them. Based on the literature review, our group has come up with the following approach. First of all, an unsustainable situation is needed to be identified through research structuring and applying different frameworks and methodologies. Secondly, after the identification process an unsustainable situation can be improved by using research methods and practical solutions. Thirdly, after practical implementation of the first two stages, the designed methodology can contain weaknesses, gaps and mistakes, what can be improved by returning to the first two stages and correcting them.
Sustainability Science is a problem-driven and solution-oriented field, which consists of three pillars: economic, social and environmental. Moreover, Sustainability Science tackles with complex problems incorporating specialists with diverse backgrounds in natural and social sciences, what defines the science as inter- and trans-disciplinary. A challenge of trans-disciplinarity can be seen in identifying an unsustainable situation through research structuring by conducting collaborative problem framing and building a research team. This stage consists of determination and description of a real-world problem, joint formulation of research objectives and research questions, setting of a conceptual and methodological framework and building a collaborative research team based on scientists from relevant research fields and “real-world actors” who have sufficient experience and expertise.
Having a collaborative research team, specific problem and research question allows to focus on developing frameworks and methodology. This stage implies multiple ways of viewing of a problem and considering human perception and interpretation of a topic or an event with the social norms, values and assumptions applying in all situations. Importantly, in this stage Holistic Treatment (top-down approaches) and Trans-boundary Thinking (bottom-up approaches) need to be used together to study an unsustainable situation/problem from different perspectives. This examination process of combined bottom-up and top-down approaches provides an analysis of the issue complexity, a design of an action plan of a transformation to a sustainable society with incorporating uncertainties in the action planning process, examination of the whole framing process.
Before moving on the improvement stage of the proposed approach, the following components of sustainability science should be included to the methodological part: goal and indicator setting, indicator measurement, casual chain analysis, forecasting, backcasting and problem-solution chain analysis. Goal setting is a normative process based on a rational view of political and social processes. In turn, Sustainability Science helps to prioritize targets by providing scientific data, what allows to focus on more important problems. Indicator setting is used to identify sustainability foci such as ecosystem, health, economic activity etc., and show a movement toward a goal. Indicator measurement can be conducted by different methods such as questionnaire survey, remote-sensing data, experimental data focusing on estimation of micro-level data to understand the behavior of the human-environmental system. The next sub-stage is casual chain analysis, which provides the relationship between causes and effects considering the wide range of factors that shape outcomes. Forecasting approach predicts future by extrapolating current trends using modeling and statistics. Backcasting is a vision-driven approach starting from the current situation and desirable future to derive possible future paths. At the final sub-stage, it is important to determine problem-solution chain to have an image on how to solve the roots of a problem, examine the methodology’s feasibility and prevent from unforeseen results.
The next major stage of the proposed approach is improvement of unsustainable situation, which implies actual doing of a research by applying research methods and practical solutions. This stage consists of adaptation, development and application of proposed integrative methods to manage the complex system. According to my personal experience in petroleum engineering, where I did calculations of a production forecast and worked in a team consisting of engineers from different fields of expertise, one important factors should be considered. This factor is clear understanding of each team-member’s scope of work at each stage of a process, which gives better understanding who contributes and what. Also, it can affect on effectiveness of a working process.
Hence, following the three major stages with incorporated sub-stages can bring the transformation to the sustainable society from a problem identification to an implementation of an action plan. However, when it comes to a real application of any methodology, method or technique can appear different questions, draws and mistakes. Therefore, the approach is decided to be cyclic in order to achieve the transformation and improve any approach.
During our group discussion we also talked about the incorporation of resilience into the transformation process to sustainable society. We have found that the terms have similarities such as a link to global political trends, where the global frameworks are focused on promotion of both sustainability and resilience especially in urbanization; and they are invoked to the state of a system concentrating on the stability of a system under normal operating conditions. However, the terms have significant differences such as resilience prioritizes processes of a system or a feature, when sustainability is focused on outcomes of a system. Another important difference is a temporal scale of implementation, where sustainability efforts are considered for longer time and resilience tackle with short term issues in immediate temporal scale.
According to literature review, there are three category of incorporation strategies of the terms of Resilience and Sustainability: Resilience as a component of Sustainability, Sustainability as a component of Resilience, and Sustainability and Resilience are separate objectives. All the incorporation strategies include assigning a priority to both Sustainability and Resilience objectives, taking an advantage from the synergy, easing the negative impacts of the conflict, and delivering the efforts to stakeholders.
In my point of view, since Sustainability and Resilience are relatively new fields of study, what have many uncertainties and luck of practical implementation of the proposed above strategies, therefore more practical usage and more research are needed to improve the proposed strategies and decide whether we really need the incorporation or not.
Studying Concepts and Methodologies of Sustainability Science gave me necessary knowledge on how to conduct Sustainability research and how to improve my current research direction, and I believe this will make my research more inter-/trans-disciplinary. Before the group discussion I did not have any understanding on how different framings (particularly top-down and bottom-up approaches) can improve my research and help to look at a problem from different perspectives.
My research topic is “Seawater intrusion into estuaries of a river in the Kujukuri Plain, Japan”, where based on 3D modeling I would like to examine the process of seawater intrusion by combining methods for groundwater and surface water (a river) interactions between freshwater and saltwater. According to my literature review, there are a few studies of seawater intrusion through a river, but there is no combined methodology for surface and sub-surface interactions of freshwater and seawater. Moreover, the phenomena of seawater intrusion have not been studied yet for the Kujukuri Plain. The Kujukuri Plain is located in Chiba Prefecture, nearby Tokyo metropolitan area. The Kujukuri Plain is an important economic support for Tokyo metropolitan area especially by agriculture activities. Over-exploitation of groundwater, land subsidence, flooding, agricultural development, urban and industrial development, change in drainage patterns deposition and erosion of river beds have changed the surface environment of the plain. All these processes could increase the risk of enhancement of seawater intrusion, while, according to the last measurements, saltwater has been found on a river surface.
Seawater intrusion in coastal areas is a global problem stipulated by intensive anthropogenic activities and climate change. Groundwater over-pumping, building agricultural and drainage canals, sand mining, sea-level rise and natural disasters such as tsunami and typhoon may enhance seawater intrusion into coastal areas. Therefore, better understanding of seawater intrusion is fundamental to the sustainable management of water resources, freshwater supply and preservation from soil degradation and loss of biodiversity.
The proposed research plan has strong technical focus on an environmental issue without any link to social and economic parts of Sustainability Science. Moreover, this quantitative research is focused on bottom-up approach without a perspective from a top-down approach. Hence, the research plan needs to be improved by adding social and economic perspective of a problem with applying different framings (under consideration are temporal, stakeholder value network, economic, environmental, ecosystem services). In addition, seawater intrusion can be linked directly to climate change and biodiversity loss, what can make the research interdisciplinary. Sea-level rise with groundwater overexploitation can lead to an increase of seawater intrusion, what can affect on soil degradation and a decrease of freshwater resources, what can affect on biodiversity loss.
From a course of Strategies for Global Sustainability I have learnt about ecosystem services approach, which implies commodification of the benefits that natural environments supply to human beings. I think, having the monetary values of an ecosystem services can be linked to the influence of an increase of seawater intrusion due to climate change. Focusing on consequences of climate change can provide top-down view on a problem, and valuing ecosystem services and calculating the reduction of freshwater resources and soil degradation can provide bottom-up perspective. Climate change and ecosystem services approaches are ideas on how to improve my research and make it inter-/trans-disciplinary. However, I think, the focus on environmental studies of my research should be maintained because doing a research in a field, where I already have sufficient knowledge and engineering skills can contribute to Sustainability Science more rather than I will spread my focus on fields of studies where I do not have any knowledge and experience.
To conclude, the Concepts and Methodologies of Sustainability Science class gave me valuable experience of doing group projects (stakeholder value network and the discussion on how the concept of Sustainability Science is applied to identify unsustainable situations and improve them) and broaden my understanding of Sustainability Science concept and practical implementation of the science. I believe, that the obtained knowledge will improve my research in terms of it inter-/trans-disciplinarity and contribute to the transformation to a sustainable society.