Despite increased awareness of the urgency to respond to climate change and to promote sustainable development, there are few powerful initiatives that are decisively shifting urban development in a sustainable, resilient and low-carbon direction. This Special Volume of the Journal of Cleaner Production explores sustainable urban transformation focusing on structural transformation processes – multi-dimensional and radical change – that can effectively direct urban development towards ambitious sustainability goals. The 20 articles are based on 35 cases and over 130 surveyed examples of urban initiatives on sustainability in many countries. While cities in Europe dominate, there are also examples from North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The combined articles in this Special Volume contribute to knowledge and understanding on sustainable urban transformation across a range of areas, including governance and planning, innovation and competitiveness, lifestyle and consumption, resource management and climate mitigation and adaptation, transport and accessibility, buildings, and the spatial environment and public space. Overall, this Special Volume documents and analyses real-life action in cities and communities around the world to respond to sustainability challenges and it provides critical insights into how to catalyse, intensify and accelerate sustainable urban transformation globally. A main finding of the articles is that governance and planning are the key leverage points for transformative change.