Public views of the Sustainable Development Goals across countries

Paul G. Bain, Pieter M. Kroonenberg, Lars Olof Johansson, Taciano L. Milfont, Charlie R. Crimston, Tim Kurz, Ekaterina Bushina, Carolina Calligaro, Christophe Demarque, Yanjun Guan, Joonha Park

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer an extensive framework for coordinating and shaping government policies, and for engaging the public with sustainability. Public understanding of the SDGs and sustainability can influence this engagement, as people are more likely to accept and share information consistent with their own understanding. We identify public understandings of SDGs through mental maps of how people relate the SDGs to environmental, social and economic sustainability. Using responses from 12 developed/developing countries (n = 2,134), we identified four mental maps that varied mainly on two dimensions, which diverged from some expert models. Some people’s mental maps identified tension between achieving environmental versus social sustainability, whereas for others the tension was between economic sustainability and the other two sustainability elements. Some people related different SDGs to each element of sustainability, whereas others saw all SDGs as targeting the same sustainability element(s). These findings highlight opportunities and challenges to engage the public with sustainability more effectively, especially with wide-ranging initiatives such as a Green New Deal. We observed cultural differences but we also identified a dominant mental map across countries that could serve as a default model for communicating sustainability internationally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)819-825
Number of pages7
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Food Science
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Urban Studies
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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