Recent EU policy has linked research agendas with societal challenges, which has resulted in an increased emphasis on the need for exchange of knowledge between research and non-research actors, especially civil society organisations. Concurrent with this, has been a call for democratic accountability of research agendas and science that addresses Grand Societal Challenges. The challenge of environmental sustainability features strongly in these discussions with an emphasis on global warming, the tightening of energy, water and food supplies, and the overarching goal of achieving an ‘eco-efficient economy’. However, this challenge can be defined in various ways, with different definitions orienting towards different solutions many of which we argue may be contradictory to the goal of environmental sustainability. In this commentary we illustrate how dominant research agendas are often orientated towards the partisan agendas of influential stakeholders, favouring myopic technological fixes and marginalising other civil society actors and critical insights from social science. Our main recommendations include a more dominant role for social sciences, involving civil society more actively in research agenda setting, increased communication, information sharing and capacity building, and increased interdisciplinarity.

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