Towards a common future: revising the evolution of university-based sustainability research literature

Walter Leal Filho, Markus Will, Chris Shiel, Arminda Paço, Carla Sofia Farinha, Violeta Orlovic Lovren, Lucas Veiga Avila, Johannes Platje, Ayyoob Sharifi, Claudio R.P. Vasconcelos, Barbara Maria Fritzen Gomes, Amanda Lange Salvia, Rosley Anholon, Izabella Rampasso, Osvaldo L.G. Quelhas, Antonis Skouloudis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The field of sustainability has evolved considerably since the report “Our Common Future” was published in 1987. Whereas matters related to sustainable development used to be of marginal interest in the 1980s, it has substantially evolved since, and have become mainstream. As a result, there is a plethora of research on different aspects, whose focus has also been influenced by societal developments. This line of thinking also applies to sustainability research in higher education, a special and central field. Unfortunately, the variety of research on matters of sustainable development in universities makes it difficult to obtain an insight into its current status, and to ascertain how it has evolved since 1987. Based on the perceived need to fill this gap, a study focusing on the evolution of university-based sustainability research literature has been undertaken. The study entailed approximately 1700 papers published between 1987 and 2019,  being one of the most comprehensive studies on this field ever undertaken. Apart from performing a bibliometric analysis using science mapping software tools, the research clustered the research into some key areas. The results suggest that, whereas impressive, the evolution of university-based sustainability research has been uneven, and calls for a more balanced emphasis to as to cover some research areas which have so far been neglected. The implications of this work are twofold: it will support the further development of the university-based sustainability research literature, and will help to address some thematic gaps, which are seen today, and to which greater attention is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-517
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal Of Sustainable Development And World Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • academic research
  • higher education sustainability
  • Sustainable development research


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