Understanding sustainability requires integrating multiple perspectives and investigative methods to explain multidimensional concepts. However, the traditional approach to research and education is organized along disciplinary lines that tend to exclude awareness of contributions in one field that may inform problems in another. This presents a serious obstacle to advancing an understanding of sustainability, which is focused on the interactions between industrial and ecological systems, rather than examining each system independently. This paper offers a broad description of different perspectives with regard to sustainability including security, reliability, resilience and renewal, and briefly describes the emerging sciences essential to understanding sustainability: ecological economics, industrial ecology, ecosystem health, and sustainable decision making, policy and design. In the latter, the challenges have yet to find an academic locus. Nonetheless, it is in this area that knowledge of sustainability science must be applied and it is consequently most proximate to business leaders, policy makers and designers. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.