A Key Concept for Sustainability: Systems Thinking
The design website Core 77 is running a series of videos under the title, ‘Sustainability in 7’. Each video features a leading expert in the field (e.g. William McDonough, Hunter Lovins & Janine Benyus) tackling a dimension of the sustainability challenge.
In the video above Nathan Shedroff tackles the concept of systems thinking, which Wikipedia defines as:
the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy.
Systems Thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing “problems” as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. Systems thinking focuses on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect.
In the video, Shedroff briefly introduces systems as a context and a perspective before explaining why ‘resilience’ is a logical successor to sustainability.
For a more thorough look at systems thinking you might want to check out Donella Meadows excellent book, ‘Thinking in Systems: A Primer’.