Sustainability is a catch-all term in need of more tangible, yet qualitatively measureable operationalisations. This paper discusses the relevance of robustness as an image of sustainability. We argue that robustness has conceptual advantages against sustainability because it is embedded in system thinking and gives direction to operationalisations of sustainable development more than sustainability ever can. We consider conceptualisations of robustness in three TransForum projects which were set up to develop the concept of robustness in agricultural innovation. In these projects, robustness is conceptualised from an engineering perspective in relation to system efficiency and control. We suggest a frame of reference based on two organising principles, and suggest that other conceptualisations of robustness should be taken into account when operationalising sustainable development through robustness.