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Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773

DOI 10.1007/s11625-011-0151-3

SPECIAL FEATURE: OVERVIEW ARTICLE Sustainability science: bridging the gap

between science and society

Industry and academia for a transition towards sustainability:

advancing sustainability science through universitybusiness
Fabio Orecchini Valeria Valitutti

Giorgio Vitali

Received: 8 October 2011 / Accepted: 17 December 2011 / Published online: 24 January 2012
 Springer 2012

Abstract This paper gathers evidence from the current the expected outcomes with the obstacles faced. Finally, the
crisis in sustainability, which indeed has led to unsustainable paper proposes a series of recommendations for conducting
global, social and human systems, to reaffirm the increasing successful businessacademic collaborations within the
importance of the business sector, not only in terms of its framework of sustainability science.
central role in the achievement of the current unsustainable
path, but above all the role still to be played by business in the Keywords Sustainability  Science  University 
transition towards sustainability. Principally, this review Business  Collaborations
focuses on the concept of business sustainability and calls for
the necessity of collaboration between industry and acade-
mia within the context of sustainability science. To provide a The sustainability crisis: the unsustainable path
reasoned and robust argument, the main co-operation
modalities and best practice currently applied out of the From a historical perspective, pro-growth economic poli-
sustainability science paradigm are reviewed. Furthermore, cies have encouraged rapid accumulation of natural,
collaborations between industry and academia experienced financial and human capital. As a result, an excessive
within the framework of International Conferences on Sus- depletion and degradation of natural resources has been
tainability Science (ICSS) are analyzed, by describing the experienced in conjunction with a strong impact on social,
founding principles of the innovative scientific paradigm, its environmental and economic equilibria. By depleting the
evolution and its application to the field. In addition, the worlds stock of natural wealthoften irreversiblythe
manuscript stresses the current relevance of the sustain- prevailing, and predominant, economic and development
ability science discipline while attempting to institutionalize models have had detrimental impacts on the wellbeing of
a collaborative and participative process, and confronts present generations. Concomitantly, they also present tre-
mendous risks and challenges for future generations.
Strong messages about the state of the planet have been
Handled by Masaru Yarime, The University of Tokyo, Japan. expressed by a wide range of scientific communities and
international organizations: the Millennium Ecosystem
F. Orecchini (&) Assessment (Reid et al. 2005), the Stern Review (Stern
Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy
2006), the Fourth Assessment Report by IPCC (2007), the
fourth Global Environmental Outlook (UNEP 2007) and
F. Orecchini Human Development Reports (UNDP 2007, 2009). More-
Guglielmo Marconi University, Rome, Italy over, the World Bank joined this chorus by publishing a dire
outlook on global food security and the impact of climate
V. Valitutti  G. Vitali
CIRPS Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy change (World Bank 2007, 2009). Furthermore, according
e-mail: the Ecological Footprint Index, humanity uses at present the
G. Vitali equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and
e-mail: to absorb the waste produced (Ewing et al. 2010).

58 Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773

To summarize, anthropogenic influences on global life 2001

support systems have reached a magnitude unprecedented in 1950
human history (Jerneck et al. 2010) and it is recognized widely
that we are now facing a crisis in sustainability, mostly
because of the industrialization that followed the industrial 1700

revolution (Komiyama and Takeuchi 2006) and the correlated 1500

rapid, but globally disproportionate, economic growth. 1
On the one hand, the industrial revolution can be con- - 10,000,000 20,000,000 30,000,000 40,000,000
sidered as the root that fostered tremendous population
growth, changes in global lifestyles and consumption pat- Total Western Europe Eastern Europe

terns, increased pressure on natural resources as well as a Former USSR Total Western Offshoots
Total Latin America Japan
decrease in environmental quality. On the other hand, the
Total Asia (excluding Japan) Africa
different speed and timing with which the revolution and
GDP increases occurred across nations can be considered Fig. 2 World population, 20 countries and regional totals, 12001
as the main cause of world inequality. AD (000). Reproduced from Maddison 2006
The millennial perspective provided by Professor Angus
Maddison, in his work for the OECD The World Econ- Reactions to the sustainability crisis: scientific
omy: A millennial perspective, shows the magnitude of evolution and global commitment
the before recalled changes, when looking at greater his-
torical time horizons (Maddison 2006: Figs. 1, 2). Generally speaking, corroboration of the relevance of the
Global inequality is confirmed to be a central issue by the current crisis in sustainability has been crystallized clearly
fact that, in spite of the advanced state of many contemporary in a comprehensive study published recently by the United
societies and economies and of constant growth in world Nations Environmental Program (UNEP 2011): the Green
GDP (Fig. 1), we clearly see some troubling contradictions. Economy Report. The latter describes the state of the art of
Notably, there is a stark inequality between those with access the current sustainability crisis as well as its main drivers.
to the fruits of advanced development, and those living in In addition, the report calls for global action aimed at the
contexts where that advancement is impeded by lack of achievement of a greener economy and a sustainable
access to what others take for granted (UNEP 2011). Two development.
emblematic examples illustrate this point: The recent multiple criseseconomical, institutional,
financial and environmentalare symptomatic of models
Nearly 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking
and mindsets commonly shared in the past among gover-
water, and 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanita-
nors, politicians and business leaders that often considered
tion services (WHO 2010);
the world as in infinite reservoir. Fortunately, in more
Approximately 1.4 billion people lack access to elec-
recent times, world leaders are now convinced of the
tricity (IEA 2010b).
necessity of a Global Green New Deal (UNEP 2009,
2010a, b) and about the need to place sustainability at the
2001 top of the global agenda.
It is worth mentioning that the achievement of such
widespread and radicated awareness has required almost
half a century. Trends, risks and the unsustainability of
1700 consequences deriving from exponential growth of key
1500 drivers determining world economic growth were first
highlighted internationally during the 1970s by the scien-
- 1,000,000 2,000,000 3,000,000 4,000,000 5,000,000 6,000,000
tific efforts of the Club of Rome, through its reports
Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 2004).
Total Western Europe Eastern Europe
During these same 50-odd years, the environment (local
Former USSR Total Western Offshoots
Total Latin America Japan
to global), became a key focus of national and international
Total Asia (excluding Japan) Africa laws and institutions. As a matter of fact, in the 1970s and
1980s, World Commissions of notables were created to
Fig. 1 World GDP, 20 countries and regional totals, 12001 AD study such international concerns, producing major
(million 1990 international Geary-Khamis dollars). Reproduced from
Maddison 2006. The Geary-Khamis method is one of the most
documents that were often followed by global conferences.
commonly used methods of aggregation in multilateral comparisons In 1972, the Stockholm Conference on the Human
when using PPA technique Environmentat which the conflicts between environment

Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773 59

and development were first acknowledgedtook place, and combat climate change (e.g., EU Climate and Energy Pack-
in 1980, the World Conservation Strategy of the Interna- age), to reduce deforestation, to change the metrics of eco-
tional Union for the Conservation of Naturewhich argued nomic growth in order to include social and environmental
for conservation as a means to assist development and aspects (Report of the Commission on the Measurement of
specifically for the sustainable development and utilization Economic Performance and Social Progress; Orecchini 2007;
of species, ecosystems, and resources (IUCN 1980)was Dasgupta 2007), to tackle sustainability related issues in the
developed. Drawing on these earlier events, the Brundtland manufacturing, buildings, transport and tourism sectors as
Commission began its work committed to the unity of well as in urban and city planning.
environment and development (Kates et al. 2005). At the same time, scientific theories and disciplines
In fact, with the publication of the Brundtland Report related to sustainability have also evolved (Bettencourt and
(WCED 1987), the concept of sustainable development Kaur 2011). Complex global issues linked to sustainability
became a well-known notion in the overall international have started to be reconsidered in a different variety of
community and gained the attention of governments, civil forms, aspects and perspectives, by a number of new ori-
society and industrial sectors on top of international insti- entations of classical scientific disciplines (Kastenhofer
tutions or fora. In a word, the Brundtland Report had the et al. 2011), and through efforts of research communities in
incontestable merit of turning on the lights and convincing the fields of electrical engineering; computer science;
the entire world of the unsustainable accelerating deterio- biotechnology; medicine; earth sciences; environmental
ration of both the human environment and natural resour- economics, natural resources economics, ecological eco-
ces as well as the related consequences of this deterioration nomics, social sciences; and chemical, mechanical and
for economic and social equilibria. civil engineering.
As a consequence, throughout the 1990s, an increasing Finally, and more recently (Figs. 3, 4), the need to face
number of local authorities, corporations and nations began sustainability related issues by creating a new discipline
to integrate the sustainability thinking articulated by the that can address complex problems in a transdisciplinary
Brundtland Commission, into their planning and opera- manner and make use of a network of structured scientific
tions. And by the beginning of the twenty-first century, knowledge, has emerged. This innovative emerging sci-
sustainable development had taken its place at the high entific paradigmsustainability sciencehas emerged
table of global affairs. Interest in creating a sustainable over the last decade at the center of a diverse set of
society had been building among politicians, business research and innovation activities relevant to societys
leaders (WBCSD 2010) and the general public as well as efforts to support a transition toward sustainability (Clark
becoming the mission of educational and research pro- and Dickson 2003).
grams worldwide. This is particularly evident in the current Today, sustainability science has developed elements of
debate on sustainability and the level to which the issue has a shared conceptual framework, sketched a core research
risen on the global political agenda, especially after the agenda and set of associated methods, and is producing a
current economic crisis began in 2008. steadily growing flow of results. One of the most important
Several global, regional and local actions, as well as bets, given its problem-oriented structure, is to actively
agreements or legislative initiatives, have been undertaken in
order to bring the world back on track towards the achieve-
ment of a more sustainable path. Noteworthy progress has
been made by many national governments and international
organizations, who have begun to incorporate sustainable
development into their planning and policies; by pro-active
businesses leaders across the globe having brought sustain-
ability to their products and processes; and finally by local
initiatives that have had success in informing citizens about
the importance of participating in reducing waste, renewing
urban spaces, and other programs.
Among the most significant outcomes of this mounting
wave, we could highlight: the Kyoto Protocol for the reduction
of greenhouse gases (GHGs); the set up of the Agenda 21
initiative; the Millennium Development Goals Program [UN
Millennium Project 2005 (http://www.unmillenniumproject.
org/); the commitment of the international community to the Fig. 3 Temporal evolution of sustainability science. Reproduced
promotion of renewable energies and energy efficiency to from Bettencourt and Kaur (2011)

60 Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773

Fig. 4 The footprint of

sustainability science in terms
of traditional scientific
disciplines. Reproduced from
Bettencourt and Kaur (2011)

involve protagonists of change towards sustainability. Since the 1990s, businesses started adopting sustainabil-
Industry is definitely one of these.1 ity principles into their organizations, starting with the
implementation of eco-efficient activities and green inno-
vations (OECD 2009); subsequently, with the adoption of
Sustainability as a business issue: the driving forces Corporate Social Responsibility practices and reports as well
with the increasing attention to sustainability related con-
For businesses, sustainability is becoming a commanding ventional market instrumentsdedicated financial indexes
and essential principle. A sustainable corporation should like the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSIs)sus-
create profits for its shareholders while protecting the tainability become a protagonist of corporate strategies.
environment and improving the lives of those with whom it The Dow Jones Sustainability Group Index (DJSGI) and
interacts; it should operate so that its business interests and the SAM Sustainability Group created the first collection of
the interests of the environment and society intersect. global sustainability indexes in September 1999. The DJSGI
Ever since the publication of the Brundtland Report allows benchmarking of the performance of investments in
there have been calls to radically rethink the relationship sustainability companies and funds. It tracks the perfor-
between our societies and the environment in general, by mance of the top ten companies in the Dow Jones global
industry and the environment in particular. The need for index that lead the field in sustainability. The criteria by
such a radical realignment, and for a new industrial revo- which the sustainability companies are identified and ranked
lution, was underscored when the Member States of the are based on three dimensions (economical, environmental,
United Nations declared in their Millennium Declaration of social) and 12 criteria (SAM and DJSI 2011) as follows:
2000 that the current unsustainable patterns of production
Economic: Corporate Governance, Risk&Crisis Man-
and consumption must be changed in the interest of our
agement, Codes of Conduct/Compliance/Corruption &
future welfare and that of our descendants, and adopted as
Bribery and Industry-specific criteria;
one of the Millennium Development Goalsthat of
Environment: Environmental reporting, Industry-spe-
ensuring environmental sustainability (UNIDO 2003).
cific criteria;
A more detailed literature review on sustainability science is Social: Human capital development, Talent attraction,
provided in the section on industryacademia collaboration below. Labor practices indicators, Corporate citizenship and

Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773 61

philanthropy, Social reporting, Industry-specific In Elkingtons idea, in addition to the classic economic
criteria. bottom line is added another regarding the effect of the
business on social equity and a third regarding its effects
These criteria facilitate a financial quantification of
(the balance of positive and negative) on the environment.
sustainability performance by focusing on a companys
Business is seen as a place where business value in the
pursuit of sustainability opportunities, and reduction and
widest sense is created, and either cared for or destroyed.
avoidance of sustainability risks and costs. Each com-
The sustainability of a business organization involves
panys sustainability performance is given a score, and the
making concrete responses to the call for sustainable
companies are ranked according to their score. DJSIs have
now contributed actively to the value and the reputation of
industries in the stock market. Currently, more than 70
DJSI licenses are held by asset managers in 19 countries to
The key role of industry in the transition
manage a variety of financial products including active and
towards sustainability
passive funds, certificates and segregated accounts. In total,
these licensees presently manage over 8 billion USD based
When considering the necessary actions, options, oppor-
on the DJSI.
tunities and alternatives for a transition towards global,
When thinking about the relationship between industry
social and human sustainability, the role and centrality of
and sustainability we may identify some main driving
industry, both in terms of causes of the crisis and potential
forces that make sustainability a priority of businesses
contribution to its solution, must be held as one of the most
important issues to be addressed and tackled.
Stakeholder judgment, pressure, and choices; Indeed, nearly one-third of global energy demand and
Environmental effects caused by industry; almost 40% of worldwide CO2 emissions are attributable to
Impact of EHS and labor legislation; industrial activities (IEA 2010a). The bulk of these emis-
Growing social divide; sions are related to the large primary materials industries,
Securing competitive position; such as chemicals and petrochemicals, iron and steel,
Obtaining commercial benefits; cement, pulp and paper, and aluminum.
Potential liabilities; Although industrial energy efficiency has improved in
Competitive opportunities and threats. recent decades, and CO2 intensity has declined substan-
tially in many sectors, this progress has been more than
Moreover, an important concept, the Triple Bottom
offset, as a consequence of globalization, world population
LineTBL has gained traction among senior managers,
growth and by rising industrial production worldwide.
according to which business is sustainable when it lives up
As a result, total industrial energy consumption reached
to the TBL of economic prosperity, environmental quality
3,015 million tons of oil equivalents (Mtoe) in 2007 (rep-
and social justice. Delivering against the TBL requires of
resenting almost a doubling of energy use since 1971IEA
business a revolution in thinking and acting in no less than
seven dimensions (thinking in 7D): markets, values,
GHG emissions must peak in the coming decade if the
transparency, life-cycle technology, partnerships, time-
worse impacts of climate change are to be avoided and
perspective and corporate governance (Fig. 5). In the
industry, being responsible for *40%, needs to accept this
simplest terms, the TBL agenda focuses corporations not
and respond proactively. If climate change is to be tackled
just on the economic value that they add, but also on the
successfully, industry will need to transform the way it uses
environmental and social value that they addor destroy
energy and significantly reduce its CO2 emissions. In order
(Elkington 1997).
to keep the world on track towards sustainability and to
make it live within the limits of the planet, a long-term
vision must be developed aimed at including all players,
from consumers to policy makers to producers.
As a matter of fact, over the next 40 years, demand for
industrial materials in most sectors is expected to double or
triple. Projections of future energy use and emissions based
on current technologies show that, without decisive action,
these trends will continue (UNEP 2011).
In addition, according to latest forecasts of the United
Fig. 5 Triple bottom line (TBL) dimensions. Adapted from Elkington Nations (UN 2008), world population is projected to reach
(1997) 7 billion in late 2011 and to surpass 9 billion by 2050.

62 Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773

From a business or industrial perspective, this can be knowledge, to transmit it to others through education, and
translated into billions of new consumers, which may offer to train new researchers. Such work does not necessarily or
room for market expansion and be considered as good immediately give rise to industrial applications or energize
news. However, the bad news is the greater than ever the economy. Provided there is sufficient stability and
scarcity of resources, concerns about mounting economic strength-in-depth, universities can engage in research that
pressure on the environment, and about potentially wors- is outside the scope of companies and provide society with
ening conditions for larger parts of humanity, will neces- different skills than would be acquired within industrial
sarily influence the ability of those 9 billion to attain or careers. These are fundamental and crucial features of any
sustain present consumption lifestyles and the standards of developed society.
living enjoyed by the most developed and richest countries. But of course universities are also expected to (and do)
It is evident that industry plays a crucial role and must make direct and indirect contributions to economic per-
adopt new business strategies that ensure profits, while formance, and have collaborated with companies for many
respecting the interests and values of both environment and years as an integral part of fulfilling their basic functions.
society. Today, the nature of these collaborations is changing as the
The World Business Council on Sustainable Develop- need for effective co-operation becomes more important. In
ment (WBCSD 2010), a CEO-led, global association of most recent decades, the nature of such relationships has
some 200 international companies dealing exclusively with become more formal through the formation of explicit
business and sustainable development, originated in the research joint ventures and partnerships and it is generally
forum held at the Rio Summit called Business Council for accepted, at least in the United States, that research part-
Sustainable Development, identified eight main issues: nerships are a critical strategic response to global compe-
tition (Hall et al. 2001). In addition, while universities were
Contributing to education enablement and economic
traditionally considered fundamental institutional actors
empowerment, particularly of women;
aimed at fostering economic and social goals, institutions
Developing and promoting radically more eco-efficient
of higher education are newly deemed as promoters of
solutions, lifestyles and behavior;
innovation (Mowery et al. 2005).
Taking into account the cost of externalities following
For this reason, several attempts at making universities
the life-cycle approach;
effective collaborators of industry players have now been
Doubling of agricultural output without increasing the
kicked off successfully, such as in the fields of data col-
amount of land or water used;
lection in Japan (Nakayama et al. 2005) and intellectual
Halting deforestation and increasing yields from
property rights in the United States (Mowery et al. 2005).
planted forests;
Furthermore, laws and policies aimed at promoting uni-
Strongly reduce carbon emissions worldwide through a
versityindustry collaboration were introduced (Yarime
shift to low-carbon economy;
2009). Moreover, Murmann (2003) showed how the
Delivering an extensive improvement in the use of
establishment of networks linking academia, industry, and
resources and materials;
the public sector led to differences in educational institu-
Making substantial cuts in industrial CO2 emissions
tions and patent laws, was a key factor in explaining the
requiring the widespread adoption of best available
technological leadership of Germany over Britain and the
technologies (BATs) and the promotion of innovation.
United States. By examining how collaboration networks
In other words, the industrial mindset and its techno- involving academia, industry, and the public sector are
logical advancements urgently need a transition in the formed, and how technology and institution can co-evolve
manner of a new industrial revolution (UNIDO 2003). To leading to environmental innovations, Yarime (2009)
do so effectively, and to accelerate the process, close col- demonstrated benefits in terms of global co-evolution of
laboration with scientists and researchers in the academic technology, institutions and regulation.
world, is not only needed, but represents a winwin solu- Efforts are being made to strengthen this process in
tion for industry and academia, and humanity as a whole order to more actively develop new applications for
(Elkington 1994). knowledge as it is created, and to better reflect the current
state and needs of industry in the educational curriculum.
By these means, it should also be possible to strengthen the
The case for industrialacademic collaboration: what competitiveness of both universities and industry.
industry and academics seek from each other? The questions are really how far this process shall be
taken and what the consequences are for the way in which
The basic functions of universities are to create knowledge each of the partners operates. Answering these questions
through research, to act as long-term guardians of this depends on having an adequate assessment of future needs

Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773 63

of both parties involved. Drawing from the literature, Lees To maintain an ongoing relationship and network with
(2000) study identified a list of reasons and expectations the university;
believed to be relevant to academics when entering into To conduct blue sky research in search of new
collaboration, co-operation or partnership with industry technology;
and vice versa (Table 1). To conduct fundamental research with no specific
applications in mind;
Reasons for academics collaborating with industry To recruit university graduates.
Lees study, based on the give and take outcomes
To supplement funds for ones own academic research;
between university faculty members and industrial firms
To test the practical application of ones own research
and conducted through ad hoc surveys, provides a hierar-
and theory;
chy of main respective motivations.
To gain insights in the area of ones own research;
To further the universitys outreach mission;
To look for business opportunity;
Best practices for industry and academia
To gain knowledge about practical problems useful for
collaboration: from outcome to impact
To create student internships and job placement
The majority of the literature regarding industryuniversity
relationships is largely empirical, based on case studies,
To secure funding for research assistants and laboratory
quantity of patents generated, bibliometric analyses or
large surveys (Fontana et al. 2006; Abramo et al. 2009).
To look for business opportunity.
As a matter of fact, some of the literature highlights the
positive impact of scientific results on the economic sphere
Reasons for firms collaborating with academics (Beise and Stahl 1999), and documents how many inno-
vations could not be achieved without the important con-
To solve specific technical or design problems; tribution of academics. Another part of the literature
To develop new products and processes; examines the importance of academics, from an industry
To conduct research leading to new patents To improve point of view, as an external source of information for new
product quality; ideas and innovation completion (Fontana et al. 2003).
To reorient R&D agenda To have access to new Furthermore, other contributions focus on the relevance of
research via seminars and workshops; the channels used by both players to exchange knowledge

Table 1 Ranking of reasons for

collaboration between industry
and academia (I&A) (source: What firms seek from academics
adapted from Lee 2000)
1 Research on product development
2 Conduct bluesky research in search of new technology
3 Solve technical problems
4 Design prototypes
5 Provide seminars and workshops
6 Conduct fundamental research
7 Support universities
8 Develop software
What academics seek from firms
1 Secure funds for graduate assistants and laboratory equipment
2 Gain insight into own research
3 Field-test application of own theory
4 Supplement funds for own research
5 Assist universitys outreach mission
6 Create student jobs and internships
7 Gain knowledge useful for teaching
8 Seek business opportunity

64 Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773

(Cohen et al. 2002), making reference to published papers The study of Pertuze` et al. (2010) was based on inter-
or reports, public conferences and meetings, and informal views with 25 research-intensive multinational companies
information exchange. Finally, other authors concentrate (from different sectors, e.g., aerospace, information, tech-
on the evaluation of the outcomes of the co-operation itself. nology, materials, consumer electronics, automotive, etc.),
For example, a study by Santoro (2000) indicates the addressed to the project manager or senior technology
existence of a positive two-way linkage between the personnel responsible for the collaboration, and referring to
intensity of industryuniversity collaboration and the tan- more than 100 university projects sponsored by industry.
gible outcomes generated, thus suggesting that higher The aim of the interview was to assess the project
levels of industryuniversity collaboration intensity tend to achievements (i.e., outcome) and subsequent impact on the
produce higher levels of tangible outcomes, while higher company (i.e., impact). The results showed that roughly
levels of tangible outcomes generated in the past serve to half the projects examined resulted in major outcomes (i.e.,
stimulate higher levels of industryuniversity collaboration produced new ideas or solutions to problems, developed
intensity in the future. new methods of analysis or generated new intellectual
However, from a business perspective, often the research property or potential benefit to the company), but that only
outcome is not the only essential and important factor. 40% of the projects with major research outcomes were
Managers often view working with academia as beneficial in exploited in ways that led to major impact, defined as an
terms of how the joint work advances the company toward its observable and generally agreed-upon positive effect on
goal, mission and strategy. Therefore, businesses may often the companys competitiveness or productivity. The other
be keener on understanding and assessing the impact that the 60% of the projects underachieved, at least from a business
co-operated research can have on the firm. This is what the standpoint (i.e., the outcomes did not make their way into
MIT Sloan Management review study called outcome- products or processes or influence company decisions).
impact gap, meaning when promising outcomes of uni- As a consequence of those results, the study lists seven
versity projects fail to translate into tangible impact for the key messages and practices for a successful industryuni-
company involved (Pertuze` et al. 2010). versity collaboration (Table 2).

Table 2 Best practices for a successful I&A collaboration. Source: adapted from Pertuze` et al. 2010
1. Define the projects strategic context as part of the selection process
Use your company research portfolio to determine collaboration opportunities
Define specific collaboration outputs that can provide value to the company
Identify internal users of this output at the working level; executive champions are not a substitute for this requirement
2. Select boundary-spanning project managers with three key attributes
In-depth knowledge of the technology needs in the field
The inclination to network across functional and organizational boundaries
The ability to make connections between research and opportunities for product applications
3. Share with the university team the vision of how the collaboration can help the company
Select researchers who will understand company practices and technology goals
Ensure that the university team appreciates the projects strategic context
4. Invest in long-term relationships
Plan multiyear collaboration time frames.
Cultivate relationships with target university researchers, even if research is not directly supported.
5. Establish strong communication linkage with the university team
Conduct face-to-face meetings on a regular basis
Develop an overall communication routine to supplement the meetings
Encourage extended personnel exchange, both company to university and university to company
6. Build broad awareness of the project within the company
Promote university team interactions with different functional areas within the company
Promote feedback to the university team on project alignment with company needs
7. Support the work internally both during the contract and after, until the research can be exploited
Provide appropriate internal support for technical and management oversight
Include accountability for company uptake of research results as part of the project manager role

Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773 65

Industry and academia collaborations explored the methodology of post-normal science in sus-
within the framework of International Conferences tainability science (Farrell 2008), and suggested new
on Sustainability Science methodological approaches to problem structuring (Ness
et al. 2010).
Current state of knowledge on sustainability science The aim of this paper is not to conduct an in-depth
review of current existing literature on sustainability sci-
Sustainable use of landscape and natural resources, miti- ence, but rather to review the latest key scientific mile-
gation and adaptation strategies for climate change affected stones currently driving the creation of this new science, in
regions, or precautionary governance of emerging tech- order to contextualize research outcomes in the wider
nologies are complex sustainability challenges that have sustainability science paradigm.
driven the evolvement of a new scientific paradigm, i.e., In our view, and as stressed by Clark and Dickson
sustainability science, over the last decade (Kates et al. (2003), the research community needs to complement its
2001; Clark and Dickson 2003; Swart et al. 2004; historic role in identifying problems of sustainability with a
Komiyama and Takeuchi 2006; Turner and Robbins 2008). greater willingness to join with the development and other
Thereby, sustainability science is inspired by concepts of communities to work on practical solutions to those prob-
post-normal and mode 2 science (Funtowicz and Ravetz lems. Similarly, Van Kerkhoff and Lebel (2006) argued
1993; Gibbons et al. 1994) and employs corresponding that sustainability scientists must engage with a broad
research paradigms such as participatory, interactive, range of stakeholders to develop joint and coordinated
transdisciplinary, transacademic, collaborative, and com- strategies for how to solve sustainability problems.
munity-based research approaches (Kasemir et al. 2003; In this regard, we believe that industry, governments
Backstrand 2003). All such approaches have in common and, above all, academia need to work together to research,
that they endorse research collaborations among scientists develop, demonstrate and deploy promising new technol-
and non-academic stakeholders from business, govern- ogies, to find and advance novel processes that will allow
ment, and civil society in order to address issues of sus- for the CO2-free production of common industrial materials
tainability. This evolution can be understood as a response in the longer term, to preserve as well improve on the
to two developments that led to the proposal of a new sustainability of global, social and human systems, and,
social contract for science (Lubchenco 1998; Gibbons finally, to set up a comprehensive policy framework for
1999): First, the asserted claim that science ought to addressing such complex problems.
address and solve demanding societal problems, a claim Those principles form the basis of, and constitute the
that is renewed in the context of the global environmental pillars upon which a part of the sustainability science
change debate (Liu et al. 2007, p. 646); and second, the research community [the Integrated Research System for
indication that traditional disciplinary and interdisciplinary Sustainability Science (IR3S) of the University of Tokyo,
approaches as well as applied and consultative (extrac- the Interuniversity Research Centre for Sustainable
tive) approaches with restricted stakeholder engagement Development (CIRPS) Sapienza University of Rome, the
tend to fail in coping with sustainability challenges (Gib- United Nations University (UNU), and the Arizona State
bons 1999; Van Kerkhoff and Lebel 2006). University (ASU)] decided to start an institutionalizing
Epistemological studies were initially pursued to process of industryacademia collaboration within the
establish a functional typology of knowledge differentiat- framework of sustainability science.
ing and linking (1) analytical (explanatory, systemic, sys- Starting from the co-production of knowledge and
tem) knowledge; (2) anticipatory knowledge; (3) normative the learning-through-doing and doing-through-learning
(orientation-guiding, goal, target) knowledge; and (4) approach, the collaboration process within the framework
action-guiding (transformation) knowledge (Burger and of the innovative scientific paradigm has been initiated and
Kamber 2003; Grunwald 2004, 2007; Wiek 2007). More shared with industry representatives through ad-hoc meet-
recent studies have focused on the uncommon knowledge ings and conferences. The main objective is to achieve a
types, namely, normative knowledge (Schultz et al. 2008) virtuous cycle supported by the three main innovative
and strategic knowledge (Loorbach and Rotmans 2010). characteristics of sustainability science itself that firstly
Methodological studies initially developed frameworks address complexity with a trans-disciplinary approach;
of how to link knowledge to action in sustainability secondly, is problem-driven and use both scientific and
research (Ravetz 2000; Scholz et al. 2006; Robinson 2008) local knowledge to resolve contextualized problems; and
and later focused on particular methods in sustainability thirdly, promotes the active involvement of the different
science, such as scenario analysis (Swart et al. 2004; stakeholders (Van Kerkhoff and Lebel (2006))civil
Guimaraes Pereira et al. 2007) and sustainability assess- society, the private sector and policy makersin a process
ments (Gibson 2006; Ness et al. 2007). Recent studies have of scientific co-production.

66 Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773

Evolution of the ICSS industryacademia collaboration Concept Paper). Documents were later revised and dis-
cussed by panelists and academics, with the aim of editing
The first step in the IndustryAcademia collaboration and producing a shared version of a Concept Paper. A
within the framework of sustainability science was the synthetic description of the modus operandi adopted for
panel discussion on Sustainability Science for Industry the Panel organization is shown in Fig. 6.
held during the International Conference on Sustainability The concept paper was aimed at outlining the central
Science (ICSS 2009: International Conference on Sus- themes of the Panel discussion, at ensuring a structured and
tainability Science 2009, convened by the University of productive discussion. By serving as the main base for dis-
Tokyos IR3S, 57 February 2009). Representatives of cussion, the paper contained five main working points to be
Toyota Motor Company, Japan Airlines, and Showa Shell considered as a first step towards an enduring collaboration.
Sekiyu KK, met academics to speak about sustainability We provide here a synthesis of the main discussion
science, with the aim of exchanging views on creating points:
partnerships between industry and academia. The industry
(1) How to enhance industryacademia collaboration.
representatives described their experience in collaboration
Because industry and academic collaboration takes
with universities, their activities related to sustainable
place in different ways, a fully cooperative way of
development and how their companies have taken steps to
working was chosen, where the protagonists of this
incorporate it in their business models. A fruitful and broad
challenge sit at the same table and to work at seeking
discussion took place, and some key points on how to build
to reduce the distance and to fill the gap between the
an effective industryacademia partnership were laid down
requirements of industry and academia. To this end,
(Kauffman 2009): (1) the necessity of defining what
the proposal for a closed cycle collaboration pro-
industry both can and cannot do; (2) the necessity for
cess emerged2 (Fig. 7).
symbolic work that defines sustainability science in the
(2) Industry Strategy for Sustainable Business. Panelists
context of contemporary challenges to galvanize all play-
stressed how sustainable product development has
ers; (3) the importance of universities and industries
became crucial for the business sector and corporate
working together to define sustainability science from the
investment strategies. More generally, panellists dis-
outset; (4) to focus on industryuniversity collaboration
cussed the good practices of industry participants,
towards specific sustainability targets (e.g., alternative
explaining how sustainability has entered into the
fuels, deployment of new technologies); (5) the necessity to
corporate decision making process, and in which way
ensure the relevance and effectiveness of the results of
sustainability may contribute to a successful business
sustainability science; (6) the need to develop concrete
cases demonstrating moving knowledge to action.
(3) How to measure sustainability and sustainable busi-
The second step was on the occasion of the Second ICSS
ness: beyond conventional economic indicators. Pan-
( held in Rome, during which
elists agreed on the fact that indicators perform many
the panel discussion Industry and Academia for a transi-
functions, from leading to better decisions and more
tion towards sustainability was held with the aim of ini-
effective actions available to policy makers, to
tiating close collaborations with big international business
helping to measure and calibrate progress towards
players, and to stress test sustainability science principles
sustainability. In addition, it was highlighted that
directly with industrial protagonists. The partners on this
information obtained through sustainability indicators
occasion were ENEL, FIAT, Unicredit and Sapio. Inter-
is starting to be crucial to industry planning in order
actions took place before and after the conference, with the
to anticipate future strategies and challenges.
aim of structuring the Industry and Academia Collabora-
(4) Deployment of new technologies: effective policies to
tion (IAC) process and to introduce all players to the new
promote sustainable business. The introduction of
scientific paradigm of sustainability science.
sustainable business practices often requires innova-
The central idea behind the Panel was to pursue a fully
tion and the development of new technologies. The
cooperative way of working, by ensuring the involvement
latter necessitates an appropriate policy framework to
of all participants in the process of structuring the collab-
facilitate and accelerate access to markets. The role of
oration and in defining the contents to be discussed. Dif-
policies in fostering the sustainability of business
ferent perspectives, aimed mainly at clarifying what
sustainability means from a business perspective, identi-
fying what industry asks and offers to sustainability sci- In the closed cycle collaboration process, industry identifies
problems, asks academia to analyze and to find solutions for them,
ence, were explored. To do so, academic researchers
evaluates their feasibility from a corporate perspective, keeping in
provided a background documentation that served as a first mind the establishment of good practice with joint solutions that are
input to participants (the Guidelines and a Working Points beneficial for society as a whole.

Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773 67

Fig. 6 International
Conference on Sustainability
Science (ICSS) 2010
collaboration flowchart

industry in pursuing sustainable economic patterns,

to create well being, and to reduce the environmental
impact of that economic activity, to be fundamental.
Many business representatives expressed the need to
better clarify the practical concept behind the theories
in order to incorporate these principles into their
After ICSS 2010, a new feeling of maturity was estab-
lished, along with the necessity of establishing an interna-
tional sustainability science network that would orient its
research activities within the framework of the new science,
and that includes the excellence of industrial partners
involved in the IAC process. The collaboration benefited
from an improvement in network structuring, and from an
expansion both of the players involved and of its geograph-
Fig. 7 The closed cycle collaboration process
ical coverage. In this international context, the first meeting
activities has been recognized as crucial and aimed at establishing structure and operational modalities
determinant. Sustainability scientists and industry took place on 5 October 2010 at UN Headquarters in New
representatives discussed how to identify best sus- York. At the workshop A Roadmap for IndustryAcademia
tainability-oriented policy practices, sending a strong Collaboration Towards Sustainability, three international
message to policymakers and working together to industrial realities had the chance to shape the future and
achieve sustainable business models. course of action of the I&A collaboration.
(5) Industry and Sustainability: reaching a shared defi- The workshop involved three universities and three
nition of sustainability science. Panelists converged companies, coming from Asia, Europe and America,
on the idea that sustainability science can help respectively: Showa Shell Sekiyu KK, ENEL, and the
understand the links between social, technological, Lighting Science Group. The first part of the event took the
economical and political dimensions. Moreover, it form of a brief presentation by the companies, while
can create methods and visions with which to analyze the second part focused on how continue the collaboration
policies and support tools for sustainability, to assess process at a global level within the International Network
its trade-offs. Researchers consider the role of for Sustainability Science.

68 Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773

Five main important points required to develop and to network, are active in the area of sustainability science.
improve the I&A collaboration were agreed: Therefore, the central elements of such a collaboration
imply inter-, intra- and trans-disciplinary research, co-
1. To create a common platform to plan next steps;
production of knowledge, co-evolution of complex systems
2. New approaches for involving more stakeholders;
and their environment, learning through doing and doing
3. To share a Paper of wills with industries, a sort of
through learning, and finally system innovation instead of
Declaration of intent.
system optimization. More simply stated, this new
4. Sharing a Roadmap summarizing main outcome of
approach can be represented as co-evolution, co-production
Romes Panel, identifying and obtaining formal sup-
and co-learning. The theory shall be employed as an
port from key industries from different continents, and
umbrella under which to bring together the various dif-
selecting key topics to be discussed in future
ferent parts of the sustainability puzzle required to call for
integrated assessment methods to analyze problems and,
5. Setting up of ad-hoc working groups on specific topics.
above all, find concrete solutions.
Sustainability science differs from others disciplines in
its systemic nature; indeed many complex issues are con-
Relevance of the sustainability science paradigm nected, interdependent (i.e., climate change and biodiver-
to the institutionalization of the collaboration: why sity) and require systemic understanding and interventions;
a new science makes the difference because of its longer-term time framework (i.e., impacts
and influence in the future; dynamic process of change;
Having presented the evolution of the collaboration pro- inter and intra generational equity); but above all because
cess within ICSS and the sustainability science paradigm, of its action-oriented characteristics, aimed at implement-
we will now briefly depict (1) the difference of the role of ing knowledge into actions to address pressing sustain-
IAC in sustainability science compared with its role in ability challenges faced by our societies. Some of the grand
other disciplines of science; (2) the higher barriers faced in challenges for global sustainability concern the improve-
the context of sustainability science and ICSS than in other ment of forecasts, the integration of observations, the
contexts as well as the different role of universities; (3) the management of disruptive change, the determination of
difference between the outcomes expected and the obsta- institutional change, the encouragement of innovation and
cles incurred. a better integration of social science research to progress
our understanding and address global sustainability (Reid
Collaborations within the sustainability science et al. 2010).
paradigm: main implications and differences To better describe these differences, we may recall a few
examples of sustainability innovation contextualized in the
It should be stressed that, in contrast to conventional so-called social process of knowledge transformation
collaborations occurring among industry and university, (Yarime 2010), where sustainability science was conceived
the goal of co-operation in sustainability science is not just in order to analyze the social process of production, dif-
the framing of a joint specific research program relating to fusion and utilization of various types of knowledge with
a product, strategy, regulation or standard, but rather a the long-term consequences to society, to study the
setting up a new way of working together under a scientific dynamic mechanisms with feedback from different players,
paradigm capable of embracing a wide spectrum of envi- and to identify gaps and inconsistencies (i.e., quantity,
ronmental, economic but above all societal values regard- quality, speed of processing knowledge) in the various
ing sustainability. phases of knowledge production, diffusion and utilization
More specifically, instead of trying to solve a precise by different players. Here, sustainability innovation is
technical problem (e.g., develop an environmentally considered and studied as a dynamic process of knowledge
friendly technology; reduce the impact of a business transformation through the interaction of different actors in
product on the environment or on society; design a precise society. Such innovation aims to identify the types of
tool), collaboration within sustainability science is aimed at knowledge, players with different norms and incentives
revolutionizing the concept of scientific production with a (i.e., universities; firms, consumers; public organizations;
vision of a new scheme where complex sustainability etc.) the mechanism of knowledge transformation (i.e.,
related problems faced by the entire business community transfer, elaboration, combination, application, interpreta-
and of relevance to human, global and social systems must tion), and finally efficiency and resilience (diversity and
find shared and cooperative solutions. Shared here connectivity) in knowledge transformation for sustainabil-
implies a broad recognition by a growing group of people ity. Such a perspective moves from the concept that,
from different backgrounds who, in a steadily extending especially in the era of the knowledge-based societies and

Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773 69

economies, the rapid creation and easy access to knowl- The final example is related to the Eco2 Cities: Eco-
edge are the key determinants of innovation (Foray 2004). logical Cities as Economic Cities, a new initiative laun-
As a consequence, with knowledge regarding sustainability ched by the World Bank in response to the challenge to
being spread widely, no single player can be on top of all make impact on the trajectory of urbanization a defining
the various issues or topics (Powell and Grodal 2005). For feature of the twenty-first century (Suzuki et al. 2009). The
this reason, any collaboration assumes a relevant role in objective of Eco2 Cities is to help cities in developing
fostering sustainability innovation. countries achieve greater ecological and economic sus-
The first example concerns the implications of IAC in tainability. The program aims to help cities in developing
the case of photocatalysts in Japan, where the formation of countries achieve greater ecological and economic sus-
networks for new applications of photocatalysts for envi- tainability. The program will provide practical and scal-
ronmental protection, fostered by advanced scientific able, analytical and operational support to cities, but also
knowledge and an effective network comprising firms, aims to build global partnerships among forward-looking
researchers and public entities, led to the realization of cities in developing countries, global best-practice cities,
diverse applications fruitful for both economic but espe- academia, and international development communities.
cially social needs. As a matter of fact, in this case uni- Four key interrelated and mutually supportive principles
versities acted as a hub of networks of science and define the Eco2 City program:
technology, where firms worked closely with academic
A city-based approach that enables local governments
researchers to develop and commercialize products, bene-
to lead a development process that takes into account
fiting from successful cases of applying new materials in
their specific circumstances, including local ecology;
fields where collaborative undertakings had prior knowl-
An expanded platform for collaborative design and
edge of consumer needs and where the public sector
decision making that accomplishes sustained synergy
worked as a bridge in developing environmentally friendly
by coordinating and aligning the actions of key
technologies (Baba et al. 2010). Here, scientific research
and product development were integrated through univer-
A one-system approach that enables cities to realize the
sityindustry collaboration and led to a successful inno-
benefits of integration by planning, designing, and
vation in a way particularly appropriate to the advanced
managing the whole urban system; and
materials sector and social needs.
An investment framework that values sustainability and
The second example regards the development of
resiliency by incorporating and accounting for life
photovoltaics (PV) in Japan, which illustrates a significant
cycle analysis, the value of all capital assets (manu-
transition in the knowledge system from one based on
factured, natural, human, and social), and a broader
research and development (R&D) projects, supported by
scope of risk assessments in decision making.
the public sector for basic scientific knowledge, to another
based on investments in production facilities by private
funds for societal diffusion. Indeed, Japanese R&D projects Higher barriers and different roles for universities
on PV were, since the mid 1980s, through a consortium of
universities and companies, funded by New Energy The high level objective of co-operation within ICSS and
Development Organization (NEDO), leading initially to a sustainability science in general, forces the protagonists to
gradual and solid accumulation and sharing of technolog- confront each other with different perspectives, priorities
ical knowledge, and more recently to an explosion of and backgrounds that often make it more difficult to
investment in PV through start-up companies funded by achieve concrete and tangible immediate results. In order
venture capitals and private funds in United States, Europe, to realize the high level of expectation, a new research and
and China, contributing to making such a technology a collaborative process paradigm is needed that is better able
valid option for changing the energy paradigm towards a to reflect the complexity and the multidimensional char-
low carbon one. However, Yarime underlines how inno- acter of sustainability. The new paradigm must be able to
vation systems through universityindustry collaboration encompass different magnitudes of scales (of time, space
that functioned relatively well in the past in Japan for and function), multiple balances (dynamics), multiple
scientific and technical knowledge might not work so well players (interests) and multiple failures (systemic faults). It
for financial knowledge (Yarime 2010).3 must be adequately managed through organized participa-
tory processes in which different kinds of knowledgenot
only scientific knowledgecome into play.
During the ICSS A Roadmap for Industryacademia Collaboration
However, even more important is the changing role of
Towards Sustainability workshop held in New York in October 2010,
the case of photovoltaic development within the context of IAC and universities, which should move from research universities
Sustainability Science was debated. to adopting a more entrepreneurial stance (Etzkowitz

70 Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773

2003). The entrepreneurial university has the ability to or lastly serving as facilitators or coordinators of different
generate a focused strategic direction (Clark 1998), both in geographical and sectoral landscapes. As an example, the
formulating academic goals and in translating knowledge establishment and structuring of permanent communica-
produced within the university into economic and social tions flows inside companies or of developing a common
utility. Etzkowitz proposes a synthetic explanation of the and shared vocabulary for transdisciplinary sustainability-
different role that a university should play in becoming related issues, adaptable to the changes of company politics
closer to a quasi-firm (Table 3). and requirements, was a strong barrier that had to be faced
On top of the more business-oriented approach to uni- with common agreed principles and next steps.
versities, academic institutions, focusing on collaborating On the other hand, according to industry, most of the
with industries in the transition towards sustainability and to advantages of collaborating with academia concern aug-
more societal useful output, should act not only as a facil- mented knowledge of new science, displaying the benefits
itator but more specifically as a main platform for knowl- arising from the latest research outcomes, the possibility
edge creation, transfer and institutionalization. Academia of participating in and contributing to the growing sus-
shall preserve its function of research and knowledge tainability science network, and expanding the view of the
building but also increase direct confrontation with industry sustainability issue with other, often rival, business play-
and society to identify the main sustainability issues to be ers. However, regarding the concrete difficulties faced by
addressed, and work towards viable solutions. Moreover, industry, the biggest was the different priorities, often in
academia should establish and coordinate networks, and terms of timing, compared with the objectives of acade-
networks of networks, that may arise progressively in order mia, as well as complications related to the structuring of
to optimize research effort and benefit from the sharing of the collaboration process rather than building ad-hoc
previous experience of knowledge and of business appli- projects.
cations. Finally, in order to include all the relevant per- To sum up, the ICSS conferences and workshops have
spectives of society, a university should be increasingly been an arena where not only different stakeholders have
able to involve citizens and consumers who, after all, rep- met but also where researchers from different disciplines
resent the final customers of any business solution. co-operated across their own scientific backgrounds and
perspectives, in a trans-disciplinary way. However, it is
worth noting that, while the ambition was to shift from a
Expected outcomes and incurred obstacles
collaboration to an international institutionalized working
group (as represented in Fig. 8), several barriers have been
Finally, coming to the third point, academia was critically
faced that have delaying the core objective of the ambitious
important in confronting industry directly in order to
initial program. A consolidated list of the core issues faced
understand in depth undertakings concerning sustainability
is summarized here:
from a business point of view, and how companies can
contribute to the institutionalization of sustainability sci- Finding the right contact person inside the company:
ence. Certainly, the advantages for academia are many- Working in a participatory way;
fold, ranging from economic (funds for own research, Structuring permanent communications flow;
internships or seminars, etc.) to academic (gaining Adapting to the changes of company politics and
knowledge useful for further improving research frame- requirements;
works and teaching) to theoretical ones (increasing Developing a common vocabulary for transdisciplinary
knowledge of the daily business of industry and long-term sustainability-related issues;
strategies). Simultaneously, academia faces strong diffi- Focusing on a framework to structure the collaboration
culties in collaborating with industry, particularly in mak- rather than aiming at building single ad-hoc projects;
ing clear to businesses the concept and definition of Developing a comprehensive strategy for such collab-
sustainability science, involving firms in a stable manner, oration when dealing with diverse business sectors.

Table 3 Expansion of university mission. Source: Etzkowitz 2003

Teaching Research Entrepreneurial

Preservation and dissemination of knowledge First academic revolution Second academic revolution
New missions generate conflict of interest controversies Two missions: teaching and research Third mission: economic and social
development; old mission continued

Sustain Sci (2012) 7 (Supplement 1):5773 71

Fig. 8 Evolution of I&A


Conclusion: recommendations and guidelines 3. Establishing strong communication linkages with uni-
for making university-industry collaborations work versity teams and business representatives (visits of
within a sustainability science paradigm researchers to companies or conference calls);
4. Increasing awareness of the project within the firms
In this paper, we highlight the current crisis in sustain- involved, aimed at engaging professionals from dif-
ability, and the centrality of industryacademia collabora- ferent functional areas;
tion in the transition towards sustainability, by both 5. Strongly assessment and concentration on the impact
recalling the scientific frameworks and the pragmatic of the collaboration to the firm strategy and mission;
experience gained from the set up of concrete processes 6. Call for a shift in the role of universities and academia,
both within and outside the sustainability science scientific shifting towards more entrepreneurial behavior.
To conclude, we deem it very important to highlight
some key universal and general concepts that are necessary
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