The promise of co-production to address complex sustainability challenges is compelling. Yet, co-production, the collaborative weaving of research and practice, encompasses diverse aims, terminologies and practices, with poor clarity over their implications. To explore this diversity, we systematically mapped differences in how 32 initiatives from 6 continents co-produce diverse outcomes for the sustainable development of ecosystems at local to global scales. We found variation in their purpose for utilizing co-production, understanding of power, approach to politics and pathways to impact. A cluster analysis identified six modes of co-production: (1) researching solutions; (2) empowering voices; (3) brokering power; (4) reframing power; (5) navigating differences and (6) reframing agency. No mode is ideal; each holds unique potential to achieve particular outcomes, but also poses unique challenges and risks. Our analysis provides a heuristic tool for researchers and societal actors to critically explore this diversity and effectively navigate trade-offs when co-producing sustainability.