General Information

The recipient of the World Sustainability Award and Emerging Sustainability Leader Award are chosen from nominees by a Selection Committee consisting of seven members each time:

Permanent Members:

  • Dr. Shu-Kun Lin, founder and President of MDPI and founder and chairman of the MDPI Sustainability Foundation
  • Prof. Dr. Ed Constable, Former Vice President for Research of the University of Basel

Non-Permanent Members:

  • A university professor from the Scientific Board of the journal Sustainability
  • A university professor from the university hosting the respective World Sustainability Forum
  • A representative of an intergovernmental organization
  • A representative of civil society
  • A representative of the business sector

The five non-permanent members of the selection committee are appointed for each World Sustainability Award. Re-appointments are possible three years after having served on the Selection Committee.

Nominees for the World Sustainability Award may be individual researchers or groups of researchers, whereas the nominees for the Emerging Sustainability Leader Award may be individual researchers aged 40 or under at the time of the submission deadline. All of them must have made, and continue to make, a unique and outstanding academic or societal contribution to sustainability in general or to a sustainability-relevant issue in particular.

Nominations for the World Sustainability Award and the Emerging Sustainability Leader Award are taken from the entire international research community. The Selection Committee may decide to select up to three recipients for a specific award, if their achievements are considered to be of equal merit and impact.

The World Sustainability Award and the Emerging Sustainability Leader Award are granted according to merit and impact, without any discrimination based on gender, race, religion, nationality, or political affiliation. The recipients are informed no later than two months before the upcoming World Sustainability Forum, whereby Dr. Shu-Kun Lin coordinates the selection procedure.

The right to the World Sustainability Award and/or the Emerging Sustainability Leader Award is not transferable. A recipient can receive the World Sustainability Award and/or Emerging Sustainability Leader Award only once for the same achievement or contribution. The recipient/s of the World Sustainability Award is/are required to participate in the award ceremony at the World Sustainability Forum. The associated costs are covered by the organizers to an extent that will be communicated to the recipient.

The USD 100,000 award money associated with the World Sustainability Award is entirely funded by the MDPI Sustainability Foundation. The USD 10,000 award money associated with the Emerging Sustainability Leader Award is entirely funded by the MDPI journal Sustainability. Both awards are presented at each of the World Sustainability Forum events*.

*The recipients of the first awards have been announced at the 6th World Sustainability Forum (WSF6) in Cape Town, South Africa, in January 2017. The recipients of the second awards have been announced at the 7th World Sustainability Forum (WSF7) in Beijing, China, in September 2018.


World Sustainability Award 2018

The second World Sustainability Awards and the second Emerging Sustainability Leader Awards were presented by:

  • Prof. Youfu Xia, Director of International Trade at UIBE, Beijing, China;
  • Prof. Ed Constable, former Vice-president and Professor of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Basel;
  • and Dr. Franck Vazquez, CEO of MDPI

The ceremony took place on 19th September 2018 as part of the Sustainable Development Education Forum in China of the 7th World Sustainability Forum in Beijing, China.

Dr. Mathis Wackernagel and Dr. Zhifu Mi are the joint recipients of the 2nd World Sustainability Award. Dr. Mathis Wackernagel is the main winner and gets 2/3 and Dr. Zhifu Mi gets 1/3 of the prize.

Dr. Mathis Wackernagel is the co-creator of the Ecological Footprint and President of the Global Footprint Network. After his mechanical engineering degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, he completed a Ph.D. in community and regional planning with Professor William Rees at the University of British Columbia, where his doctoral dissertation developed the Ecological Footprint concept in the early 1990s. Since 1997, he has advanced the Ecological Footprint for countries through the National Footprint Accounts which continue to be the world’s only comprehensive metric able to compare human demand on nature to what the planet can renew. They inform about countries’ exposure to core sustainability challenges, including climate change and resource constraints.

The Global Footprint Network reaches over 3 billion media impressions ever year with its Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the date when humanity has used more from nature than the earth can renew in the entire year. In 2018, this date fell on August 1st.

Dr. Zhifu Mi is a Lecturer at The Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, University College London (UCL), with research interests in the fields of climate change economics and energy policy. He is co-developer of the China Emission Accounts and Datasets which provides the most up-to-date, comparable, verifiable, and free emission-accounting inventories of China. His doctoral dissertation about Climate Change Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) was honoured with the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award on economics research in China. He was invited to write a review article about climate change IAMs for Oxford Bibliographies. He has published over 40 papers in peer-reviewed journals, including Science Advances, Nature Geoscience, and Nature Communications.

 He serves as an associate editor of the Journal Cleaner Production and as guest editor of the Applied Energy Journal. Since joining the UCL in 2017, Dr. Zhifu has won several early career prizes and awards.

Emerging Sustainability Leader Award 2018

The joint recipients of the second Emerging Sustainability Leader Award are Dr. Bradley Hiller and Dr. Xiaodong Zhang.

Dr Bradley Hiller is an emerging global sustainability leader. He has a strong academic foundation, upon which he is boldly applying sustainability principles and solutions across multiple sectors. Dr. Hiller has four sustainability-relevant qualifications – a PhD and Master’s degrees from the Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge, and two Bachelor degrees in Environmental Engineering (1st Class Honors) and Environmental Science from the University of Western Australia.His university research contributed to evidence-based decision-making at the World Bank; a BBC World documentary; and a debate in Western Australian State Parliament.

 Dr. Hiller currently has academic affiliations with the Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge (Lead Research Consultant), the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (Associate Research Consultant), the Global Sustainability Institute, the Anglia Ruskin University (Visiting Fellow) and the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong (AsiaGlobal Fellow). Dr. Hiller also serves as Lead Consultant at the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), where he supports strategic and operational activities within the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Departments. Dr. Hiller contributes to academic and quasi-academic knowledge pieces and investments intended to improve social, economic and environmental conditions. Recent examples include the co-development and operationalization of ADB’s strategic climate change framework to 2030 (including a US$6 billion annual climate financing commitment), the presentation of the University of Cambridge findings on one of the world’s largest diversified food and beverage companies (ultimately contributing to a sustainability commitment of 1 billion USD); and recommendations to improve the resilience of the global agrifood system to extreme weather events (as part of a UK-US Research Taskforce). Dr. Hiller’s applied research findings have been directly presented to and actioned by high profile personnel, from the HRH Prince of Wales (on green investment potential), through to the World Bank Vice President responsible for a $65 billion poverty reduction portfolio in Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Hiller generates numerous academic outputs – 7 journal articles (plus 1 under review, and 1 under preparation) – including 2 Sustainability articles – 4 dissertations, approximately 40 formally peer-reviewed knowledge productions/reports, 4 book chapter contributions (or co-authorships), 6 conference papers, 2 television documentaries (produced or contributed), and 2 supervised/advised postgraduate students. Dr. Hiller’s ongoing research aims to understand the dynamics of achieving transformational change at scales (around which he hopes to build a social enterprise focus on decentralized essential service provision).

Dr Xiaodong Zhang is a Professor at the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at Shandong University. He is a licensed professional engineer in the USA and in Canada. He has worked as an outstanding researcher, teacher and an emerging leader in research, teaching, leadership, and professional services toward sustainability at the Los Alamos National Laboratory of the University of Texas at Austin, USA, Environment Canada and the University of Regina, Canada. As a pioneer in addressing sustainability issues, Dr. Zhang has made significant contributions to development and application of systems-analysis, machine learning and data-driven methods, models, and technologies for sustainable management of environmental, water resources and energy concerns under climate change and the resulting complex uncertainties.

He has a strong record of publications with outstanding quality and quantity in top peer-reviewed journals, including Water Resources Research, Journal of Hydrology, Water Research, and Advances in Water Resources. He is a leader and coordinator for many major research projects with high quality of leadership. He serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Hydrology and the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, and as an Editorial Board Member of Environmental Modelling & Software, Scientific Reports and Water. He is a Review Panelist and Reviewer for grant proposals for the National Science Foundation in USA, Canada and China. He is, furthermore, a primary convener and session chair for many international conferences including the AGU Fall Meeting, and an active member of many scientific committees and societies, including ASCE. He has won a number of international and national awards and honors.

Youfu Xia, Director of International Trade at UIBE, Beijing, China; Mathis Wackernagel, co-creator of the Ecological Footprint and President of the Global Footprint Network, Oakland, USA; Franck Vazquez, CEO of MDPI, Basel, Switzerland; Ed Constable, Former Vice-president and Professor Department of Chemistry University of Basel, Switzerland and Zhifu Mi, Lecturer at The Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, University College London (UCL) and co-developer of the China Emission Accounts and Datasets, London, UK

The first World Sustainability Award and the first Emerging Sustainability Leader Awards were presented by Prof. Thandi Mgwebi, Director of Research at UWC, and Dr. Franck Vazquez, CEO of MDPI, during a ceremony on 27 January 2017 as part of the gala dinner of the 6th World Sustainability Forum in South Africa.

World Sustainability Award 2017

Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs and Dr. Sonia Ehrlich Sachs are the joint recipients of the 1st World Sustainability Award.


Prof Jeffrey Sachs is a world-renowned professor of economics, leader in sustainable development, senior UN advisor, bestselling author, and syndicated columnist, whose monthly newspaper columns appear in more than 100 countries. He is the co-recipient of the 2015 Blue Planet Prize, the leading global prize for environmental leadership, and has been named among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential world leaders twice. Professor Sachs served as the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University from 2002 to 2016. During that time, he led a university-wide organization of more than 850 research scientists and policy experts in support of sustainable development, championed the Masters of Development Practice (MDP) program, which is now offered at 30 universities around the world.


He also helped to introduce the PhD in Sustainable Development at the Columbia University, where he was appointed University Professor in 2016 and where he serves as Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management. He was Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the Sustainable Development Goals, and previously advised Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria. Prior to his arrival at Columbia University in July 2002, Professor Sachs spent over twenty years as a professor at Harvard University, where he served as the Director of the Center for International Development and the Galen L. Stone Professor of International Trade. He received his B.A., summa cum laude, from Harvard College in 1976, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1978 and 1980 respectively.


Dr. Sonia Sachs is a paediatrician and public health specialist with a specialty in paediatric endocrinology. Dr. Sachs practiced medicine for over 20 years, 14 of which at the Harvard University Health Services. In 2004, she joined the Earth Institute and became the health coordinator for the Millennium Villages Project, overseeing all health related interventions and research. The goal of the project is to show that an integrated development approach is scalable and sustainable. She tirelessly contributes to the coordination and work that has made the Earth Institute a beacon of international sustainable development. She received a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.D. from the University of Maryland Medical School, and an MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Emerging Sustainability Leader Award 2017

The joint recipients of the first Emerging Sustainability Leader Award are Dr. Esther Ngumbi and Dr. Xiaosong Hu.

Dr Esther Ngumbi is a 2007 recipient of American Association of University Women (AAUW) International Fellowship. She has been featured in the AAUW celebrating 125 years of fellowships and grants views and on the cover of AAUW’s acclaimed national research report, “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics”. Dr. Ngumbi is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University in Alabama. She is a Food Security Fellow with New Voices, The Aspen Institute, and has also served as a Clinton Global University Initiative Mentor for Agriculture. Esther was named by One World Action as one of the 100 powerful women who change the world. She continues to be a global leader, motivational speaker and is passionate about issues related to hunger, gender, education, youth activism and sustainability.

Dr Xiaosong Hu received a PhD degree in Automotive Engineering from Beijing Institute of Technology, China in 2012. He conducted scientific research and completed his dissertation at the Automotive Research Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, between 2010 and 2012. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Center and the Department of Signals and Systems at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden. His research interests include optimal control and dimensioning of electrified powertrains, modelling and management of energy storage systems. He is a recipient of the Beijing Best PhD Dissertation Award in 2013, and is a Member of IEEE.

Instructions for Nomination

The final deadline for nominations for the 2020 World Sustainability Award and the Emerging Sustainability Leader Award will be 30 November 2019.
All documents must be submitted in English, and no self-nominations are accepted. Nominations must be submitted in accordance with the following instructions:
Two documents must be provided as word files:
1. Nomination Summary
2. Full Nomination

1. Nomination Summary

1.1. Nominee's Details

  • Title, first name, middle name, last name
  • Position and institutional affiliation of nominee
  • Postal address of institution of affiliation
  • Work phone number, home or mobile phone number
  • Email address
  • Postal address of nominee
  • Photo of the nominee (300 dpi, copyright free)

Nominee’s Summary

Summary of nominee’s achievements and merit for the World Sustainability Award and/or the Emerging Sustainability Leader Award (max. 500 words)

2. Full Nomination

2.1. Nominee’s Work

A detailed description of the nominee’s work (max. 5000 words), highlighting the contributions toward sustainability that would merit receipt of the World Sustainability Award and/or the Emerging Sustainability Leader Award. The description must refer to the importance of the work, its impact, and its projected influence.

2.2. Nominee’s Detailed CV

2.3. Nominee’s List of Publications

2.4. Nominee’s List of Funded Projects

2.5. Other Relevant Information

The nomination must be sent by email to [email protected]. For inquiries, please contact Matthias Burkhalter ([email protected]).