Experiments and evidence in sustainability science: A typology

Guido Caniglia, Niko Schäpke, Daniel J. Lang, David J. Abson, Christopher Luederitz, Arnim Wiek, Manfred Laubichler, Fabienne Gralla, Henrik von Wehrden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Experiments are crucial for sustainability science because they allow researchers to produce evidence about the causes of sustainability problems and about the effectiveness of solutions. Many laboratory and field studies, community-based initiatives, and pilot projects have been defined as experiments in this field. Yet, in sustainability science, it is still unclear what distinguishes scientific experiments from conventional projects or initiatives as well as how different scientific experiments compare to one another. In this article, we define an experiment as a scientific practice that relies primarily on an intervention and that allows for the production of empirical evidence. We show that, in sustainability science, researchers can have different types of control over the intervention (from full to no control) and that evidence can be about different subjects (sustainability problems or sustainability solutions). Relying on this differentiation, we introduce a typology that organizes experiments in sustainability science according to type of control over interventions and subjects of experimentation. The typology provides a synthetic, comprehensive, and comparative overview of the variety of experimental approaches in sustainability science. By providing a definition and a typology for scientific experimentation in this field, the article contributes to the further development of evidence-based approaches in sustainability science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StateAccepted/In press - 2017


  • Causal and actionable knowledge
  • Sustainability problems
  • Sustainability solutions
  • Sustainability transformations;
  • Sustainability transitions
  • Transdisciplinarity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Experiments and evidence in sustainability science: A typology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this