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Discuss about the ‘Systems thinking is Critical in Developing Solutions to Sustainability Challenges’.


System thinking is a mechanism to integration that is anchored on the notion that component portions of a given system shall serve differently when isolated from the environment or other portions of the system. It stands in contrast to reductionist and positivist thinking by setting out to perceive systems in a more holistic way. In consistent with philosophy of systems, system thinking circumvents an understanding of a system through the examination of connections and interactions between elements which constitute the system’s whole (Almeida et al. 2017).

Where one encounters situations that are complicated and messy, system thinking becomes of the magic solution in understanding the context systematically. This assists people to view the big picture-from where people might recognize multiple points of leverages addressable to support constructive change. It further assist people acknowledge the link between elements in the situation (Chakrabarty 2017). This acknowledgement allow individuals to support shared actions. The diagram below provides an illustration based on set of links that can effectively introduce people to system thinking and how to manage as well as facilitate system thinking:

System thinking allows individuals to make their comprehension or understanding of social systems explicitly and enhance them in the similar manner that individuals can utilize principles of engineering to establish explicit and enhance their understanding of mechanical systems. The approach of system thinking is substantially distinct from the traditional analytical forms (Chang et al. 2017).


Whereas traditional analysis emphasizes on the separating the individual pieces of what is under study; indeed the phrase “analysis” is derived from the root meaning ‘to break into constituent parts’, system thinking on the other hand, emphasizes on how the underlying thing under study interacts with the rest of the system’s constituents (Gregory and Miller 2014). This implies that rather than isolating smaller and smaller portions of the system under study, system thinking works through the expansion of view to consider larger and larger quantities of interactions as a matter is studied.

This system approach culminates in distinct conclusion than the ones produced by traditional analytical forms, particularly when subject of the study is dynamically sophisticated or has great deal of both external and internal feedbacks. The character of this approach makes it increasingly effective to solve the foremost challenging types of problems: those encompassing complex issues, and those which rely on great deal reliance on past or actions of other stakeholders, as well as the ones deriving from ineffective coordination amid stakeholders (Partridge et al. 2017).

The wicked problem is the major challenge for system thinking model: The action intended to get the solution to the underlying problem actually ends up being worse since the manner its unintended side effects alter system ends up exacerbating the same problem (Sun, Hyland and Cui 2014).

Various significant problems plaguing people today remain complex and involve multiple stakeholders, and are at minimum partially the outcome of previous actions which were undertaken to alleviate them. Dealing with these wicked problems remains notoriously challenging and the consequence of traditional conventional solutions remain often poor enough to establish discouragement regarding the prospects of ever efficient and effective in addressing them (Sahin et al. 2017).

One single most benefit of system thinking relies on its ability to deal efficiently with just such types of wicked problems as well as to raise the thinking of people to the degree at which people create the outcomes they need as individual along with organization even in such challenging contexts marked by sophisticated, huge quantity of interactions, besides the absence or inefficiencies of instantly obvious solutions. 

System thinking and practice essentially ‘sees’ the world in a given manner, since how people ‘see’ things influences the manner in which people approach contexts or undertake particular chores. System thinking and practice allows people to learn about problems of system definition as well as meeting certain core concepts utilized in theories of system: boundary, positive and negative feedback and environment. The overacting question, therefore, is “does system thinking really solve challenges of sustainability?”


For many of us, it remain seldom to go through a single day before hearing the phrase “sustainability’” or “green” which have become “catch-all phrases” applicable to any sector. Nonetheless, the underlying notions as well as needs remain common. This draws this study to take into account and act beyond time, borders and individual’s needs. As it has been acknowledged that critical state of the environment, social and economic system is additionally reinforced by rising complexity, uncertainty and velocity, system thinking practices becomes an inevitable approach to sustainability.

As has been explicated above, system thinking remains a trans-disciplinary “framework for viewing inter-relationships instead of things, for viewing trends of change instead of static snapshots”. Systems thinkers will frame a challenge or problem in regards to behavior patterns over time, rather than emphasizing on a given event. Rather than microscopic, system thinkers strive for microscopic, viewing beyond the particulars to the situation of relationships whereby they are embedded.  It is increasingly used by both practitioners and academics in equal measures to address sustainability challenges.

Nevertheless, similar to any novel problem-solving approaches, system thinking approach has certain criticisms. Assumption against system thinking is that it is more of too fundamentalist “characterizing a fundamentally technocratic perception of business problems”. Its reliance on models as well as being deprived of actual solutions is a major threat to system thinking legitimacy in the corporate boardrooms as well as management education. Nevertheless, system thinking is successful when it builds from first diagnosing the problem to figure out how to fix the problem and succeed to implement the solution with the already known outcomes for sustainability challenges.     

Applying System Thinking to Shifting to more Renewable Sources of Energy

Shifting to more renewable sources of energy is a wicked problem that can be solved through system. System thinking can be used to promote renewable energy along with sustainability. The systems analysis as well as thinking is perceived as a hub for integrating between society, environment as well as technology. A system approach to energy policy design as well as implementation is appropriate when shifting to the renewables sources of energy.

Via a system thinking approach, this shift advances from problem diagnoses before effective implementation. For example, system thinking has allowed the policymakers to acknowledge that the landscape in the energy sector is changing. Accordingly, it has recommended an active planning of these changes as a significant approach to capture the potential of renewable technologies as well as promotion of efficiency.


The system thinking has helped acknowledge the requirements for a sustainable energy path: it needs less fossil or more renewable technologies and enhanced resource and energy efficiency. It further needs lower carbon intensity and convergence of energy use per capita. It also needs effective and efficient markets capable of delivering reliable services and security of energy supply. Diagnoses has also uncover that sustainable energy path needs better integration of natural and human system to ensure lower impacts on the health and environment.

Evolving from the diagnoses of the needs above, a system thinking has subsequently helped in designing policies that effective transform the energy sector by facilitating the achievement of the sustainable energy path already mentioned (Willsteed et al. 2017). Once this is done, the system thinking allows for the creation of innovative mechanism that promote sustainable energy systems. For example, examples of these mechanisms include electricity certificate systems, trading emission, standardization like biofuels, flexible mechanisms like Kyoto Protocol, well-functioning electricity market, research programs including pilot plants, municipal eco-energy programme, local and regional energy offices and voluntary activity with the industry.

System approach also diagnoses the environmental degradation economic manifestation and highlight their underlying causes as market failures and policy. This will help the problem by ensuring that these failures are prevented. For example, ensuring multiple and superior utilization of a resource rather and recycling, no loss of unique sites and habitats, and non-use of renewable resource as extractive resource and getting rid of waste and inefficiency coupled with scarcity (Sahin et al. 2017).   

The system thinking approach also enables the effective search for synergies. This is done by acknowledging the need for collaborative approach among market restructuring, technological challenge and sustainable development. These three components have shared aspects that must be done. There is a need to have effective resource management, multiple utilization of resources, structural changes in exchange flows between human and natural systems alongside having effective energy, climate as well as development technology (Meadows, Sweeney and Mehers 2016).

Under technological challenges, the system thinking allows for effective conversion processes as well as performance, application, resource management and improved efficiency. Under market restructuring, the optimization of applications in competitive markets, project structure along with finance, risk management as well as institutions are part of critical synergies. Under the sustainable development, the system recommends biodiversity, socio-economic development in rural regions, economic robustness of local as well as global systems as well as climate change mitigation as well as adaptation (Mälkki and Alanne 2017).   The analysis of synergies searching is effective since it reveals that energy system transformation is insufficient and hence recommends the need for reinvention of infrastructure systems and cities along with rural areas.

The reinvention of rural areas recommended by system thinking approach remains key in the development pf bioenergy as well as achievement of sustainable development. The system thinking suggest that rural areas’ reinvention requires enhanced resource efficiency as well as integrated approach to forestry and agriculture with the role of food production and energy (Oncel 2017). System thinking approach also approach sustainable energy solutions via a motivated framework beyond their corresponding technical performance, economic efficiency as well as environmental benefits to make it more appealing in the context of both regional development as well as multiple benefits to the society (Kumanyika, Parker and Sim 2010). It further suggests the need to promote energy transactions to get rid of market failures.


The system thinking approach gives effective environmental impacts assessment of energy systems. It acknowledges that this major shift to renewable energy for instance, from biomass requires novel tools for restricting the environmental impact of intensive systems of harvesting. It takes into account any decision made relating to forest energy supply that subsequently has a prominent effect on energy systems (Iychettira, Hakvoort and Linares 2017).

The goal of system thinking approach is to develop particular tools essential in both planning and decision making which integrate data from environmental databases into the scientific knowledge of consequences of environmental intensive energy harvesting. The system thinking does this by bringing all the stakeholder on board including the forest research institutes to solve the wicked problem (Lai and McCulloch 2017).

The system thinking approach is also relevant in understanding the systems shifts as well as system interactions. It recognizes that efficient along with sustainable energy solutions require an understanding of interactions between community, several infrastructure systems as well as natural environment. The skirmishes relating to water use and river management, will emerge as the utilization of novel renewable energy sources rises. Energy systems remain likely to emerge differently in diverse countries. System thinking approach avails the useful understanding of technological path for the industries when grabbing market opportunities in diverse nations (Holmstedt, Brandt and Robèrt 2017).

In conclusion, from the above discussion, it can be categorically stated that systems thinking is essential in developing solutions to challenges of sustainability. This has been clearly been demonstrated by picking the wicked problem relating to the enormous shift to renewable sources of energy. It has been shown that unlike a traditional approaches, a system thinking is effective in advancing this shift by building its implementation from problems diagnoses and then move further to implement the scheme which aligns to sustainability in the best way possible.  



Almeida, C.M.V.B., Agostinho, F., Huisingh, D. and Giannetti, B.F., 2017. Cleaner Production towards a sustainable transition. Journal of Cleaner Production, 142, pp.1-7.

Chakrabarty, D., 2017. The politics of climate change is more than the politics of capitalism. Theory, Culture & Society, p.0263276417690236.

Chang, R.D., Zuo, J., Zhao, Z.Y., Zillante, G., Gan, X.L. and Soebarto, V., 2017. Evolving theories of sustainability and firms: History, future directions and implications for renewable energy research. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 72, pp.48-56.

Gregory, A. and Miller, S., 2014. Using Systems Thinking to Educate for Sustainability in a Business School. Systems, 2(3), pp.313-327.

Holmstedt, L., Brandt, N. and Robèrt, K.H., 2017. Can Stockholm Royal Seaport be part of the puzzle towards global sustainability?–From local to global sustainability using the same set of criteria. Journal of Cleaner Production, 140, pp.72-80.

Iychettira, K.K., Hakvoort, R.A. and Linares, P., 2017. Towards a comprehensive policy for electricity from renewable energy: An approach for policy design. Energy Policy, 106, pp.169-182.

Kumanyika, S., Parker, L. and Sim, L., 2010. Defining the problem: the importance of taking a systems perspective.

Lai, C.S. and McCulloch, M.D., 2017. Levelized cost of electricity for solar photovoltaic and electrical energy storage. Applied Energy, 190, pp.191-203.

Mälkki, H. and Alanne, K., 2017. An overview of life cycle assessment (LCA) and research-based teaching in renewable and sustainable energy education. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 69, pp.218-231.

Meadows, D., Sweeney, L.B. and Mehers, G.M., 2016. The Climate Change Playbook: 22 Systems Thinking Games for More Effective Communication about Climate Change. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Oncel, S.S., 2017. Green energy engineering: Opening a green way for the future. Journal of Cleaner Production, 142, pp.3095-3100.

Partridge, T., Thomas, M., Harthorn, B.H., Pidgeon, N., Hasell, A., Stevenson, L. and Enders, C., 2017. Seeing futures now: Emergent US and UK views on shale development, climate change and energy systems. Global Environmental Change, 42, pp.1-12.

Sahin, O., Siems, R., Richards, R.G., Helfer, F. and Stewart, R.A., 2017. Examining the potential for energy-positive bulk-water infrastructure to provide long-term urban water security: A systems approach. Journal of Cleaner Production, 143, pp.557-566.

Sahin, O., Stewart, R.A., Giurco, D. and Porter, M.G., 2017. Renewable hydropower generation as a co-benefit of balanced urban water portfolio management and flood risk mitigation. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 68, pp.1076-1087.

Sun, D., Hyland, P. and Cui, H., 2014. A designed framework for delivering systems thinking skills to small business managers. Systems, 2(3), pp.297-312.

Willsteed, E., Gill, A.B., Birchenough, S.N. and Jude, S., 2017. Assessing the cumulative environmental effects of marine renewable energy developments: Establishing common ground. Science of The Total Environment, 577, pp.19-32.


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