Socio-Ecological Systems and Sustainability

Principal Researcher:  Paula Antunes

The main goal of SE2S research in CENSE is to generate the scientific and policy-relevant knowledge about the dynamics of social-ecological systems (SES) needed to enable a transition to a sustainable society.  

We focus in the design of integrative approaches, methods and tools to support a holistic and systemic analysis of the functioning of SES and the development of appropriate responses to promote societal and technological innovations for sustainability. This includes shaping individual citizens’ behavior, fostering corporate sustainability performance, influencing economic agents’ choices and establishing development priorities and policies at different scales.

This thematic line builds upon the accumulated experience of CENSE researchers in this area, in particular of the Ecological Economics and Environmental Management group (ECOMAN). Research in this line aims at building bridges between science, policy, business and the wider society. Our research in SE2S addresses three main clusters of questions:

1. How can we assess the sustainability of organizations, activities, products, services, policies, regions or countries? Which indicators should be applied for this purpose and how should we integrate the different values and perspectives at stake in a sustainability problem?

2. How can we formulate, assess, implement and monitor policies to promote sustainability? How can concepts such as natural capital and ecosystem services be used to inform the design of environmental policies? How do different policy instruments targeting a particular sustainability challenge interact in a policy mix and how can we promote complementarity among them?

3. How can we design and implement platforms to enable effective engagement and participation of relevant actors in monitoring, planning and policy-making processes dealing with sustainability matters? How can methods such as participatory modelling and social multi-criteria analysis contribute to this purpose? What is the role of information and communication tools (ICT) in this context?

SE2S research employs a range of multidisciplinary approaches and methods, combining theoretical analysis with modelling and empirical place-based research. It employs quantitative and qualitative methods, combining approaches from the natural and social sciences, embracing the methodological pluralism paradigm that characterizes the scientific field of ecological economics.

The SE2S approach and associated tools are applied to the main sustainability challenges such as climate change, resource efficiency, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services, water management, coastal and marine environments, sustainable consumption and de-growth, sustainability strategies in public and private organizations and spatial planning

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