Read the full story in Fast Company.
When United Nations member states agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) two years ago, they were setting down a consensus view on the future of nations. The SDGs represent humanity’s best aspirations for national improvement, from curbing hunger and disease to reducing inequality and responding to climate change. And, in their completeness and breadth, the SDGs suggest that countries find a more harmonious balance between industry and economy on one side of the ledger, and environment and social factors on the other.
By that difficult-to-reach yardstick, nowhere is perfect (including the U.S.). Even the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark)–so often at the top of quality-of-life ranking exercises–fall down in some areas of the SDGs, according to a new report. By traditional development measures–including poverty and life expectancy–they do very well. But, judged by their impacts on the environment and other countries, their negatives are significant as well: These societies consume high amounts of resources and produce high amounts of harmful waste, like electronic by-products.
Since 2001 the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems has developed a growing set of fact sheets that cover topics including energy, water, food, waste, buildings, materials, and transportation systems. Each fact sheet presents important patterns of use, life cycle impacts and sustainable solutions. They are designed to inform policymakers, business professionals, students and teachers. The fact sheets are peer-reviewed and updated annually.
Read the full story at GreenBiz.
Love it or hate it, Pokémon Go shows how digital technology can be an agent of behavior change — getting people to do things they otherwise might not do. As the endless stories of Pokemon Go mayhem filled up my social media feeds, I got to thinking: What would the “Pokemon Go of sustainability” look like?
The United Nations Environmental Programme has developed a new MOOC entitled “Wicked Problems, Dynamic Solutions The Ecosystem Approach and Systems Thinking.”
It begins on September 12, 2016 and runs for six weeks (seven for the advanced certificate). The cost is free. Here’s more from the course web site:
About this course
We live in a complex and dynamic world. Many problems we face today involve interdependent structures, multiple actors, and are at least partly the result of past actions. Such problems are extremely difficult to tackle and conventional solutions have very often led to unintended consequences.
A systems thinking approach focuses on systems as a whole: how the parts interrelate and how interconnections create emerging patterns. Systems thinking tools allow us to map and explore dynamic complexity. With a better understanding of systems, we can identify leverage points that lead to desired outcomes and avoid unintended consequences. Environmental problems are often described as “wicked problems” to highlight their complexity and the difficulties they entail. Finding answers to current crises such as fisheries collapse, climate change, biodiversity loss, infectious diseases, and inequitable access to resources will be amongst the greatest challenges of our time. The ecosystem approach applies systems thinking to gain a better understanding of how ecosystems function. It can help us identify potential solutions to a myriad of problems inspired in part by the complex dynamics of ecosystems themselves.
- The first MOOC focusing on the ecosystem approach and systems thinking
- Case studies from around the world
- Expert faculty and distinguished visiting lecturers
- Open to all without restrictions
- Develop an extensive global network with other students and professionals from around the world
- FREE of charge, including access to all course material on a 24-hour online platform
What will you gain in this course?
- a well-developed knowledge of the basic features of ecosystems, the ecosystem approach and systems thinking from an interdisciplinary perspective
- an understanding of the distinction between reductionist and holistic thinking
- the ability to apply critical systems thinking
- enhanced knowledge of the inter-relationships between ecosystems and human systems:
- critical ecosystem functions and services,
- threats, drivers and direct and indirect impacts to human well-being and development, and
- opportunities for the wider application of the ecosystem approach and systems thinking in other sectors
- specific awareness of case studies selected from representative ecosystems and related global issues, demonstrating the benefits and challenges of integrated approaches for ecosystem management and beyond
- the necessary basis for designing creative solutions to ecosystem management and governance problems
Foundations: 40 hours of learning introducing the student to the basic concepts of the ecosystem and systems thinking approaches. This track consists of 10 modules geared towards university students, policymakers, managers and professionals who require an overview of the topic in order to integrate the concepts of the MOOC into their professions.
Advanced Certificate: 10 additional hours consisting of a final assignment for those who want to acquire more in-depth knowledge, insights and skills relating to the applicability of the ecosystem approach in their respective areas of specialization, in the larger framework of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
Students can obtain a certificate of participation after the completion of the Foundations component of the course, and may elect to take their studies further to obtain an Advanced Certificate.
John C. Little, Erich T. Hester, and Cayelan C. Carey (2016). “Assessing and Enhancing Environmental Sustainability: A Conceptual Review.” Environmental Science & Technology 50(13), 6830-6845. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b00298
Abstract: While sustainability is an essential concept to ensure the future of humanity and the integrity of the resources and ecosystems on which we depend, identifying a comprehensive yet realistic way to assess and enhance sustainability may be one of the most difficult challenges of our time. We review the primary environmental sustainability assessment approaches, categorizing them as either being design-based or those that employ computational frameworks and/or indicators. We also briefly review approaches used for assessing economic and social sustainability because sustainability necessitates integrating environmental, economic, and social elements. We identify the collective limitations of the existing assessment approaches, showing that there is not a consistent definition of sustainability, that the approaches are generally not comprehensive and are subject to unintended consequences, that there is little to no connection between bottom-up and top-down approaches, and that the field of sustainability is largely fragmented, with a range of academic disciplines and professional organizations pursuing similar goals, but without much formal coordination. We conclude by emphasizing the need for a comprehensive definition of sustainability (that integrates environmental, economic, and social aspects) with a unified system-of-systems approach that is causal, modular, tiered, and scalable, as well as new educational and organizational structures to improve systems-level interdisciplinary integration.