Sustainability science takes center stage at Day 2 of SRI2021

The second day of SRI2021 continued with a varied program exploring a breadth of sustainability research and innovations from fashion to wildlife management to the impact of climate change on mental health.


The textile industry is among the world’s most environmentally damaging and exploitative. The United Nations estimates that the industry accounts for 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions, as well as resulting in one garbage truck of textiles being sent to landfill or burned every second.

From design to end-of-life: Fashion and the sustainable development goals presented a multi-disciplinary approach to sustainable design, consumption and production of fashion –– cutting across design, governance, industry and scientific perspectives.

As Deborah Fisher, Discipline Leader, Fashion at the University of the Sunshine Coast said: “If we are to make significant changes to the long-term sustainability of the fashion industry it needs to begin with thoughtful and considered design, and that begins with a more socially aware and ethically-driven process and in doing so address the environmental, economic and social impact across the production of end product.”

The session looked at innovations and research throughout the garment life cycle from textile production to landfill – ranging from communication between designers and consumers right through to the use of robotics to improve efficiency.

Currently, the consumption of fashion is increasing at an unprecedented rate. Taylor Brydges from Stockholm University and the Institute for Sustainable Futures discussed fashion rental platforms and their potential to contribute to more sustainable consumption behaviors, while Lydia Ayorkor Manieson from the Queensland University of Technology presented research on Ghanaian repair practices to extend the life of clothing and how these practices could benefit the West.


Science for Stockholm+50: Mobilizing for the 2022 UN High-Level Meeting brought together policy makers and leading scientists for the first science policy dialogue in the run up to the event next year, asking “how can science support the Stockholm+50 agenda?”

Panellists in the Stockholm+50 session

The Stockholm+50 meeting marks 50 years since the United Nations Conference on the Environment in 1972, also held in Stockholm. Over the past half century, global achievements have been made for sustainability targets, constructing roadmaps and advancing agendas for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And yet, much remains to be done before we are on track to sustainable development.

“The Stockholm conference 1972, the first international appeal on environmental development, is a stark reminder of all the evidence that was there on the table already then,” said Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Professor in Earth System Science at the University of Potsdam. “Now, 50 years later, 70 years into the Anthropocene and we must unfortunately admit that we have not bent the curves. We have not succeeded in achieving human development within a safe operating space of a Holocene life planet. Instead, we’ve reached a saturation point.”

“We’re starting to the hit ceiling of Earth’s capacity to remain stable and support current and future generations… Overall, we must admit, that on our watch we have failed,” he said.

Matilda Ernkrans, Minister for Higher Education and Research at the Swedish Department of Education emphasised that “the conversations in Stockholm+50 regarding the Earth’s climate and environmental problems should be based on the research and collective knowledge of climate, environment and sustainable development.”

“The knowledge generated from research is crucial to increased understanding of the ongoing climate change and other environmental problems and our ability to develop strategies for the measures needed today and in the future,” she said.

“The world needs brave political decisions and science can show the way.”


Later in the day, participants came together onsite at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre for a dynamic evening at the Culture: The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability session, which explored the notion of cultural sustainability.

Photo: Samuel Stacey/Cultivate Communications

Elkington’s (1997) triple bottom line is a longstanding conceptualization of sustainability, which captures economic, social, and environmental considerations. But a growing number of commentators have been calling for the inclusion of culture as sustainability’s fourth “bottom line”. A specific cultural goal is not yet listed among the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, despite years of advocacy.

The session brought together academics, performing artists, and arts managers, to explore the relationships between culture and sustainability, including why culture should be recognized as the fourth pillar of sustainability.

As Patrick Nolan, CEO and Artistic Director Opera Queensland, explained: “When we think about culture, we have to ask what types of sustainability come to mind? Everything speaks to culture – from the design of this room, the clothes we’re wearing, to the books we’re reading and the podcasts we’re listening to – all of that needs to be sustained in a variety of ways.”

Culture and sustainability in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic collided, where almost all of the cultural elements of our society – the arts, live music, theatre – were suddenly shuttered and only “essential workers” were allowed outside the home. Looking to the future this will have long-lasting ramifications for travel and live events.

“From an accessibility perspective, coronavirus and the pivot to online – accessibility was addressed in a way that we hadn’t done previously, we could see far more main stage theatre productions from home than we ever could before. That decentralization is part of the responsibility moving into a more sustainable perspective,” explained Ari Palani, Director and Facilitator, Producer (Youth and Education) La Boite Theatre Company.


In Plenary 3: Building resilience for a post-Covid world, sponsored by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), panellists discussed the lessons learned from the pandemic and the ways in which we must adapt, change and transform moving forward to build resilience.

Sir Peter Gluckman ONZ KNZ FRS, head of Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures in the University of Auckland, chair of the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA) and President-elect of the International Science Council (ISC) spoke of the changes that need to be made to better coordinate scientific research.

“The science system itself hasn’t really evolved that much in the last 30 years and yet the issues that science wants to see addressed need to be addressed differently,” he said.

“We don’t have a system of coordinating the science that needs to be done for the global commons,” said Gluckman. “This has to be done in a true transdisciplinary way. This doesn’t just mean disciplines coming together, it means framing the question through multiple lenses at once.”

Leena Srivastava, Deputy Director General for Science, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis shared that, for her, building resilience in a post-Covid world “involves correcting a number of mistakes we have made along the path of growth and development.” Those corrections include “the design of incentive structures that have supported unbridled growth and only for a few, corrections around unchecked globalization that has resulted in many distortions of development choices – not the least around global food supply chains – corrections around the engagement of all stakeholders in decision making and giving them a voice for making informed choices,” she said.

Valérie Verdier, Chairwoman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of IRD explained IRD’s deep commitment to the international mobilisation against the COVD-19 pandemic. “COVID-19 reminded us how fragile we are, how fragile our societies are, and how urgently we need to cherish our planet because there is no Plan B, and there is no insurance for the planet,” she said.

SRI2021 continues tomorrow. Follow @SRICongress and #SRI2021 on social media for live updates and to join the conversation online.