|The Triple Bottom Line of Sustainability||05.26.2010|
Systems Thinking in a Sustainable World
|Bessie DiDomenica, MBA
Co-founder, Columnist and Editor
Secretary of Innovation
Systems thinking is a tool to guide sustainable development. Systems thinking is useful to help people visualize their core values in the process of understanding sustainability on a personal level, and it explores the interconnections between the macro and micro views of sustainability. Environmental, economic, and equity shape the macro view. Development, community capacity, and stewardship form the micro view (leadership, collaboration, policy, economic health, interactions between nature and humans). Both perspectives describe the integration of factors that determine how a community builds sustainability. The framework relies on connections, choices and consequences, important features in the holistic view of sustainability.
One of the challenges of understanding sustainability is in how people and communities define the word. There are a variety of definitions, including conserving resources for present and future generations or integrating the “triple bottom line” of environmental, economic, and social equity (Kraft, 2009).
Sustainability is an integrated system with a different meaning for each sector. For example:
Even with a clear definition, another challenge lies in how people and communities understand sustainability. Flint (2010) suggested that one definition of sustainability creates barriers between stakeholders. It is hard for everyone to agree on one definition. A good alternative is to encourage each community to define sustainability for itself.
This can happen when people create a vision based on core values. Exploring connections and common interests help people visualize what sustainability means to them and their communities. Flint (2010) proposed using visual images to help people understand the concepts of sustainability. Helping people to evaluate their core values can enhance their understanding of how human behaviors affect nature.
A vision can 1) Guide a variety of people toward their shared interests; 2) Create a personal and meaningful definition of sustainability; and 3) Encourage a broad view of how people interact with nature (Flint, 2010).
Systems thinking and sustainability
Systems thinking provides a framework for sustainability. Flint (2010) described the “Three C’s” of sustainability as connections, choices, and consequences. This framework is a starting point for a community to plan its sustainable development. The system looks at the triangle (development, stewardship, community capacity) that links to the overlapping circles of environment, economic, and social equity. For example, sustainability takes a holistic view based on details such as resource conservation or practices supporting sustainable indicators.
Theories and concepts include development (economic strength, adding value to existing assets), stewardship (interactions between nature and people), and community capacity (leadership, collaborations, public policy) (Flint, 2010).
The Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) model could help my community. This model supports a range of processes that look at the interactions of the environmental, economic, and social equity within a community. The focus is on the collective health of a community. My community is experiencing fiscal shortfalls, new green industries, and growing demands for public services.
MAPP can review the links between sustainability and systems thinking. Pressures inside and outside the community create change. A joint or collaborative process is a practical way to include a range of stakeholder interests in the decision-making process (www.ctb.ku.edu).
For example, the framework includes evaluating the priorities and needs of a community; the community’s vision as a result of a participatory process; an action plan that outlines community goals; the overall process is reviewed; and implementation is evaluated. The model can look at the long-term effectiveness of a community’s health.
The value of the MAPP model is that it creates an integrated picture of the community as a reflection of the health of each individual. MAPP is inclusive of the health of each person and the community’s overall health. Some factors that are important to the community’s health are environmental, economic, social, spiritual, and political (www.ctb.ku.edu).
My community includes a large population of adults with families and elderly residents. MAPP depends on multiple stakeholders to contribute their input. The effort creates a vision that includes a range of community interests, supports trust building, and opportunities for different people (young people, older adults) to lead initiatives (www.ctb.ku.edu).
Another benefit of MAPP is that people learn the process of sustainable development. Learning helps the effort move forward and limits misunderstandings between stakeholders. A strategy is clear and people are more likely to work together when they know where the project is going. Collaborations add to the health of a community (www.ctb.ku.edu).
MAPP makes communities strong by looking at the risk and rewards of change. Forces of Change Assessment (exploring present and future risks and their impact on the community’s health) help to evaluate potential change. A strategic plan can help to adjust to change before it happens and allows the community to be proactive, not reactive, to internal or external forces (www.ctb.ku.edu).
Some learning points were that systems thinking puts sustainability in context. Systems thinking are tools to guide sustainable development. These tools are useful to help people visualize their core values in the process of understanding sustainability on a personal level.
In addition, systems thinking explores the interconnections between the macro and micro views of sustainability. Environmental, economic, and equity shape the macro view. Development, community capacity, and stewardship form the micro view (leadership, collaboration, policy, economic health, interactions between nature and humans).
Both perspectives describe the integration of factors that determine how a community builds sustainability. The framework relies on connections, choices and consequences, important features in the holistic view of sustainability.
Flint, W., (2010). Foundations of Sustainable Community Development. Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). Tools for sustainable community development. Baltimore, MD.
Kraft, M. (2009). Sustainability and Livability Course DVD: Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). Elements of sustainable and livable communities. Baltimore, MD.
About smart growth. Smart growth online.
Creating livable sustainable communities. New Urbanism.
Work group for community health and development, University of Kansas. (2009). The Community Tool Box: Chapter 2 – Some other models for promoting community health and development. Section 13, Main Sections — Introduction, what, why, when, who, and how.
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