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Communication Regarding Sustainability: Conceptual Perspectives and Exploration of Societal Subsystems


  • Jens Newig

    (Institute for Sustainability Communication, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Scharnhorststr. 1, Lüneburg 21335, Germany)

  • Daniel Schulz

    (Institute for Sustainability Communication, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Scharnhorststr. 1, Lüneburg 21335, Germany)

  • Daniel Fischer

    (Institute for Sustainability Communication, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Scharnhorststr. 1, Lüneburg 21335, Germany)

  • Katharina Hetze

    (Institute for Sustainability Communication, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Scharnhorststr. 1, Lüneburg 21335, Germany)

  • Norman Laws

    (Institute for Sustainability Communication, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Scharnhorststr. 1, Lüneburg 21335, Germany)

  • Gesa Lüdecke

    (Institute for Sustainability Communication, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Scharnhorststr. 1, Lüneburg 21335, Germany)

  • Marco Rieckmann

    (Institute for Social Work, Education and Sport Sciences, University of Vechta, Driverstr. 22, Vechta 49377, Germany)


Sustainability issues are typically characterized by high complexity and uncertainty. In light of this, communication plays a crucial role in coping with these challenges. The previous debate on sustainability communication has largely focused on how to communicate sustainability issues to others. Sustainability communication, however, involves more than sender oriented communication to persuade others (“communication of sustainability”); it also embraces processes of dialogue and discourse (“communication about sustainability”). Based on this distinction, we develop a typology of communication modes, including communication for sustainability. Inspired by the notion of functional communication systems, we explore sustainability communication in six societal subsystems, applying the typology of communication modes. Drawing mostly on examples from Germany, we find a shift from “communication of” towards “communication about” sustainability in most subsystems. While communication subsystems have a tendency towards operational closure, a variety of interlinkages exist. We discuss three key areas of “opening up” communication subsystems, leading to transdisciplinarity, societal deliberation and governance, each meeting one of sustainability’s core challenges.

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  • Jens Newig & Daniel Schulz & Daniel Fischer & Katharina Hetze & Norman Laws & Gesa Lüdecke & Marco Rieckmann, 2013. "Communication Regarding Sustainability: Conceptual Perspectives and Exploration of Societal Subsystems," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 5(7), pages 1-15, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:5:y:2013:i:7:p:2976-2990:d:27045

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    References listed on IDEAS

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