Research Themes

The ISE community consists of over 550 faculty who conduct research within all areas of the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. From analysis conducted to develop the ISE’s strategic plan, it is clear that Mason has particular research strengths in the following SDGs:

To leverage these strengths and maximize impact, ISE has identified six research themes to serve as focal points around which to build transdisciplinary communities of research and practice. These themes align with the efforts of the global sustainability community so that our work benefits from and influences further progress toward the SDGs.

Human Health, Well-Being, and Capabilities

Good health and well-being are essential to sustainability as they are fundamental to human dignity and inextricably linked to all other aspects of our global society – as is demonstrated by the global disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our capabilities underlie our ability to achieve good health and well-being. Research in this area examines the environmental and social determinants of health, well-being, and capability and addresses individual and systemic drivers that lead to poor outcomes. Such research supports scientists and practitioners in the formulation and implementation of strategies that provide security from disease and injury, promote happy, comfortable lives, and ensure everyone has the freedom, opportunity, and ability to lead fulfilling lives.


Sustainable and Resilient Communities and Ecosystems

Research in this area assesses urban and peri-urban sustainability and resilience challenges including systemic interactions with terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. With more than half of the global population now living in or near cities, it is imperative that we understand the dynamics between our social, engineered, and environmental systems. Research in this area supports the development of communities that are environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive, economically productive, and resilient to shocks and significant stress. It also contributes to ensuring the health of ecosystems on land and underwater.

NSF Report - Sustainable Urban Systems: Articulating a Long-Term Convergence Research Agenda


Harnessing the Digital Revolution for Sustainability and Education for All

As the volume of data, speed with which data are produced, and capabilities of digital technologies all explode, the demand for data and use of digital technologies have permeated society. Research in this area harnesses the data revolution to advance scientific understanding of social and environmental systems and to address all of the sustainable development goals – with a special emphasis on education for all. Quality education is essential for sustainability because it is a key to escaping poverty, reducing inequalities, enabling gender equity, and is crucial for fostering peaceful societies. Research in this area propels scientific understanding, educates and empowers people, enables better policies, supports better decision-making, and increases participation and accountability. Equally important is the research that ensures equity and inclusivity in the data revolution so that data and technologies are useful for many diverse users and that human rights are not abused through data misuse.

UN Report - A World That Counts: Mobilizing the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development


Clean Energy, Decarbonization, and Climate Action

The increasing threats of climate change require urgent and concerted effort to mitigate atmospheric carbon emissions and strengthen adaptive capacities to climate threats in both highly industrialized and developing countries. Research in this area contributes to the decarbonization of the global economy, to ensuring universal access to modern and renewable energy sources, and to strengthening resilience to climate-related hazards and natural disasters.


Enhancing Equality, Equity, and Access to Basic Goods and Services

Cultural and structural inequalities based on income, sex, age, disability, race, ethnicity, religion and opportunity preclude human rights, prevent justice, create vulnerabilities, and undermine sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent economic crisis have severely intensified these global disparities and threatened the security of hundreds of millions. Research in this area focuses on addressing these disparities through social, scientific, technological, and policy innovation. It contributes to reducing inequality, enhancing equity, and ensuring access to basic goods and services for everyone – including ending poverty in all its forms, eliminating hunger, and ensuring access to clean water and sanitation. It also aims to strengthen labor rights and eliminate all forms of modern slavery and human trafficking.


Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions to Support Thriving Economies

Research in this area focuses on fostering stable and inclusive societies with thriving economies. The lack of peace, justice, and strong institutions undermines the stability of society, increases the prevalence of violence and crime, perpetuates violations of civil rights and liberties, and leads to internal displacement and mass migration that can destabilize the global community and destroy economies. To alleviate these challenges, research in this area addresses peace and conflict resolution mechanisms, good governance, the rule of law, judicial and administrative systems, and transparent and accountable public institutions. In so doing, research will shed light on the institutional frameworks and inclusive decision-making and participatory processes required for fostering representative, responsive, and inclusive societies and strong economies.