Who we are

The Sustainability Research Unit is home to a group of critical thinkers dedicated to promoting the sustainability and resilience of social-ecological systems. We focus on the crossing point between ecosystems and society, on understanding the processes that influence human behaviour and therefore the sustainability of society, water, earth, plant and animal resources.

Where we are based

Between the mountains and the sea in South Africa’s Garden Route we have created a unique thinking environment where academics, students, visiting scholars and practitioners from different disciplines and backgrounds can work and learn together. We discuss challenges, investigate solutions, reflect and learn again. The campus at Saasveld is right on the boundary of the Garden Route National Park where fresh air, tranquility and amazing natural scenery inspire creative research.



SRU Strategic Plan

The SRU Team

For more information on our team, see our SRU members page.

The challenges we look at

The challenges that we see as critical at this time include adapting to climate change; managing invasive alien plants and animals; reversing land degradation; maintaining or improving river health and the ecological integrity of wetlands, coastal zones and estuaries; promoting good governance and decision making; implementing adaptive management and reducing inequality through benefit sharing.

We seek to understand the processes, feedbacks and interactions that cause change. Energies that occupy us include the interactions between people and their ecosystems across scales, how groups and individuals learn and adapt, how their thinking works, their barriers and bridges to adaptation, and the factors that lead to long term change in a positive direction.

To us, sustainability is a way of life. It has many joys but also requires sacrifices and, above all, comes with responsibilities. Engagement, integral to sustainability, fits all three these categories. Joys, because what can be more satisfying than facilitating a dialogue between farmers, conservationists, township residents and retired businessmen, and seeing how they begin to find common ground before the morning is over? Sacrifices, because to engage properly and build trust with stakeholders, we have to often connect with them in the evenings and over weekends, quietly attend their meetings, assist them with funding proposals, visit their places of work and exchange knowledge them.  A responsibility because we have an ethical duty to be accountable to our community, our funders and fellow scientists. Therefore we publish all our engagement work in journals and books and on our web site and blog. Because the funding that fuels our academic lifestyle is not ours: we are merely borrowing it from present and future generations to help create a better life for all.

Our inspiration

We get our inspiration from our natural environment and from users and practitioners on the ground. We work closely with them to link our theoretical frameworks to practical solutions. And above all, we have fun. We see every research project as an exciting journey of discovery, reflection and re-discovery. We challenge everything.

Our frameworks

Our theoretical frameworks are in the areas of social-ecological systems, resilience, complex adaptive systems management, social learning, mental models, social network theory and landscape ecology. The methods we use cut across academic disciplines, ranging from participatory research, content analysis, geographic information systems; soil, water and vegetation surveys; landscape ecology and modeling.


What we do

The SRU produces academic and peer reviewed papers, gives presentations, hosts workshops and debates about sustainability, and produces reports that are relevant to policy making and management decision making. We work on the ground, mostly in the Garden Route and Eden District Municipality but also nationally and internationally with like-minded researchers in other institutions. We collaborate with researchers across disciplines and have a large network of national and international partners that we can draw on.

We are also involved in the community, having recently helping to organise local community hacking days (see image) and hosting engagements and workshops to aid in the sustainability of the area.



We currently collaborate with researchers and practitioners in:

  • SANParks
  • Eden District Municipality
  • George Municipality
  • Knysna Municipality
  • CSIR Natural Resources and Environment
  • The Worldwide Fund for Wildlife
  • Stockholm Resilience Centre
  • The Resilience Alliance
  • CIRAD in Montpellier
  • The Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter
  • Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability