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Multiple Questions On Issues Of Sustainability Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 5483 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Suppose you are taking a course in Strategic Sustainable Development. One of your colleagues, who works for a company as a Director of Sustainable Development, calls you up and asks what you are learning about. Please list five (5) broad/overarching concepts that you could use to describe the core of Strategic Sustainable Development. (5 points) Note: it is not necessary to describe them, only list them.

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The FSSD is a generic framework for planning and decision-making for achieving success in a system of socio-ecological sustainability. Based on scientifically-based principles (discussed below) and systems thinking, the FSSD supports decision-making in conditions of high complexity, recognizing the interdependence of the natural world and society. It can serve as compass to guide society towards a sustainable future; a strategy for sustainability can be developed which links scientific knowledge to decision-making. The FSSD has five distinct, non-overlapping levels: system, success, strategic guidelines, actions and tools. By using the FSSD together with a principles-based definition of sustainability, it becomes possible to judge how actions can be strategically planned and prioritized to move an organization and society towards sustainability. Based on a common language and understanding in order to facilitate cooperation, to communicate effectively, build consensus and ultimately move toward a vision, the FSSD provides a shared mental model of sustainability. Because it uses an upstream approach, the FSSD anticipates and avoids problems before they occur, rather than reacting to their downstream effects.

B – Scientific foundations of FSSD

The FSSD is a scientifi­cally rigorous Framework; scientific foundations (e.g. laws of thermodynamics, energy, entropy, photosynthesis, biogeochemical cycles, interdependency of species, system dynamics, cyclic principle and biogeochemical cycles) are used to derive the basic principles of ecological and social sustainability.

C – Metaphor of the Cylinder and the Funnel

In its whole-systems view, the FSSD uses the metaphor of the Cylinder and the Funnel to illustrate the flawed interpretations and trends about current reality, problems with our current industrial system and the challenges of sustainability. The funnel helps to visualize the economic, social and environmental pressures that impinge on society as natural resources and ecosystem services are depleted and decline while global population grows in number and there is an ever increasing consumption of those resources and heightened demand for those services.

D – Four Sustainability Principles (SP) and the Model of Nine Universal Human Needs

The four, first-order Sustainability Principles (SP) of the FSSD clearly spell out what ecological and social conditions must exist in order for a society and therefore, for development, to be sustainable now and in the future. Understood within SP 4 is a model of the nine universal human needs as defined by the Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, as well as the interrelationships between human needs, wants, satisfiers, and pathologies/poverties.

E – Backcasting and the ABCD Methodology

Backcasting from sustainability principles (planning from success) is a tool used in the FSSD. First a vision of success is defined and then a gap analysis, using the lens of sustainability is performed, which then helps define strategies and prioritized actions that work toward closing the gap. In the ABCD Methodology – First step (A) understanding how to apply Backcasting from Principles to the system for analyses of step (B) current practices and step (C) solutions/visions and (D) prioritized actions to create a strategy to achieve success. In step (D), actions are prioritized to ensure that all selected actions are (1) moving in the right direction (towards sustainability), (2) flexible platforms that avoid dead-end investments, and (3) good business decisions (i.e. offer an adequate return on investment).

In Chapter 1 of Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability, the author makes frequent mention use of the words systematic and systematically to describe difference between the cylinder paradigm and the funnel paradigm.  For example:


In the cylinder paradigm: it is believed that socio / ecological impacts come and go.

In the funnel paradigm: in reality society is on a downhill course – the very conditions of social / ecological welfare are being systematically undermined.

In the cylinder paradigm: it is believed that social / ecological impacts are isolated events.

In the funnel paradigm: in reality social / ecological impacts are interconnected through systematic errors of societal design.


Why are the words systematically and systematic important to make the distinction between the two paradigms? (4 points)

The problem of unsustainability (as represented by the funnel metaphor) is that the negative impacts we see from our unsustainable way of living are due to an underlying “systemic error of societal design” that will continue to worsen. In the current model of industrial organization and neoclassical economics, society at large is organized in such a way that the environmental impacts – pollution, loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions etc. – will continue to increase as long as society continues on the same paradigm of development. As long as the systemic errors continue, the conditions for ecological and social survival and prosperity will continue to decline systematically. The funnel metaphor represents a systems theory way of thinking, which understands the principle functioning of the ecological and social systems, recognizing the interdependence of the natural world and society.

Why were the System Conditions developed according to the criteria of (i) necessary, (ii) sufficient, (iii) distinct, (iv) general, (v) concrete and (vi) science-based? (2 points)

In order to be successful and widely accepted as legitimate and valid, the system conditions must be necessary (required in order to achieve the planning objective, i.e., sustainability) and sufficient (to cover all aspects of the objective), distinct (to enable comprehension and facilitate development of indicators for monitoring and assessment) general (to structure all societal activities relevant to sustainability and make sense for all stakeholders),concrete (to guide problem solving and actions, serve as a guide in problem analysis and solutions ), and science-based. (proven, scientifically robust model, based on systems thinking and scientific foundations (e.g. laws of thermodynamics, energy, entropy, photosynthesis, biogeochemical cycles, interdependency of species, system dynamics, cyclic principle and biogeochemical cycles) from which are derived the basic principles of ecological and social sustainability).

What does it mean to be “strategic”? (1 point)

Part of a decision-making process in which choices are made, a strategy is a plan of prioritizing actions in order to achieve a particular goal. Once an organization has established its purpose/mission/vision of an idealized future, it can select policies and actions within that strategy to move an organization towards achieving that goal. If we have a clearly principled view of a future sustainable society, then we have a perspective on which we can strategize – base our decisions on strategic guidelines which direct us on the best way to proceed in order to achieve success in the system, i.e. sustainability. In the FSSD, together with a principles-based definition of sustainability, it becomes possible to judge how actions can be strategically planned and prioritized to move an organization and society towards sustainability.

If each of the actions below were done in an ongoing manner, which Sustainability Principle would be affected? Please fill in the blank with the primary Sustainability Principle that the action contributes to, i.e. 1, 2, 3, or 4 (Write one SP only for each answer). (0.5 point each, 5 points total)

___3___ overharvesting of fish

___3___ development of fertile land into urban infrastructure

___2___ release of antibiotics into rivers

___1___ leaching of mined cadmium from batteries

___2___ release of methane from cows (if one considers that a concentration of methane occurs because of a human activity – herding cattle to support a meat based diet in excess of the natural ecosystem’s capacity to absorb the excessive waste this produces)

___2___ fertilizer run-off that leads to the overproduction of algae in nearby lakes

___4 __ lack of development of a healthcare system

___1___ leaking of uranium from mining operations

___3___ extraction of groundwater at rates that exceed natural replenishment

___4___ unsafe working conditions

The Brundtland definition of sustainable development is “to meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (Brundtland, 1987). Explain how this includes the concept of ecological sustainability. (2 points)

Though it is not explicitly stated, ecological sustainability is a key component of the Brundtland definition; all aspects of human existence and survival – the ability to meet human needs – are integrated with the sustainability of viable ecological systems. In a systems model of thinking, what happens in one part of a system affects every other part.

The Brundtland definition is adequate in some ways, but does not give guidance as to the design of such a society or how to achieve this sustainability. It is not specific enough nor does it have the simplicity of the FSSD with the four, first-order Sustainability Principles (SP) which clearly spell out what ecological and social conditions must exist in order for a society and therefore, for development, to be sustainable now and in the future. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing:

concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust (such as fossil fuels or metals),

concentrations of substances produced by society (such as chemical compounds, CFC’s, insecticides,

and endocrine disrupters),

degradation by physical means (such as clear-cutting of forests and over-fishing)

Moreover, in such a (sustainable) society, people are not subject to conditions that systematically:

4. undermine their capacity to meet their needs (such as from the abuse of political and economic power).

The FSSD asks – upstream at the first approximation in the chain of cause-and-effect, what are the primary mechanisms of human activities which set off unsustainable impacts downstream? The FSSD recognizes that downstream impacts are rooted in upstream errors of societal design and operation. All ecological and social sustainability problems which society faces today can be attributed to violations of one or more of these four mechanisms, expressed by the 4 SP. If the society seeks to meet its needs now and in the future, it must conform to the ecological constraints of the first three Sustainability principles, and conform to the societal constraints of the fourth Sustainability Principle, then the resources must be enough to succeed, in meeting those needs.

Please describe the concepts of a ‘tool’ and a ‘framework’, what they are useful for and the difference between them (3 points)

A tool is a device that is necessary to, or expedites, a task; it can also be a procedure or process used for a specific purpose. A framework is a basic conceptual structure, a shared mental model, for moving an organization towards achieving a goal that it has established. A framework should inform the selection and use of tools to support the framework; tools should be selected and used as needed at each stage.

Within the structure established by a framework, tools are often used to facilitate actions, gain necessary information, monitor actions and measure progress. The purpose is to ensure that actions are chosen strategically, so that the goal (success) in the system is achieved. In the FSSD, “tools” is the fifth level of the framework. When “backcasting from principles of success”, a tool of the FSSD, is combined with another FSD tool, “the ABCD methodology”, together they can be used as facilitation tool for analysis, brainstorming sessions, learning, vision development, program design, leadership and change. In planning for sustainable development, examples of other useful tools include indicators, management systems, and life cycle assessments.

If your colleague asks you whether this Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) is better than other tools or concepts in sustainable development, how would you respond? (2 points)

With a science-based definition of socio-ecological sustainability, based on systems thinking – with four basic first-order Sustainability Principles – the FSSD is a very effective planning methodology; it can be used for assessing current conditions, visioning an ideal future, and developing effective strategies and prioritized actions to achieve that vision.

FSSD is perhaps a unique framework in that it is, almost by definition, a simple (understandable) yet comprehensive approach that encourages dialogue, consensus-building and systems-thinking, all of which create the conditions which can facilitate profound change. The FSSD provides a process of continual learning that incorporates other methods, tools, and concepts into a shared, structured overview. By its upstream approach – understanding the broader system within which problems occur as well as define the principles which govern success in that system – it becomes an invaluable mental model. It can address those problems at the source and turn those problems into opportunities for innovation, organizational change and success. When a practitioner understands the 5 level FSSD, the 4 Sustainability Principles, Back-casting and the ABCD methodology, and knows how to apply them, that practitioner has a very powerful guide to navigate the many complexities of living sustainably in a complex system.

a) Please discuss the difference between a fundamental human need, and satisfiers for those needs. Give 2 examples of each. (4 points)

The Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef presents a different framework for New Human Development. He stresses that it is important that human needs are understood as a system – i.e. they are interrelated and interactive. Max-Neef considers that human needs are “finite, few and classifiable” (as distinct from the conventional notion that “wants” are infinite and insatiable). He defines these fundamental human needs: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, recreation (in the sense of leisure, time to reflect, or idleness), creation, identity and freedom. Max-Neef considers that these needs are constant through all human cultures and across historical time periods, but what does change over time and between cultures are the “satisfiers” – the way these needs are satisfied. In this model, any unmet human need generates “pathology” – poverty. In his view, society today is experiencing collective pathologies because of the scale and dimension of unsatisfied, unmet human needs.

Need: Satisfier:

Subsistence Healthy balanced diet versus one of high fat, high calorie, no nutrients which negatively impacts ecosystems

Leisure Time to reflect/dream versus watching violent television passively for long hours

b) Explain how this concept is helpful for sustainable development. (2 points)

Max-Neef’s definition of what human beings need, and what motivates them, is fundamentally different from the currently held notion. If decision-makers operated according to his assumptions rather than those of most economists, then the choices they would make would be radically different.

Instead of using GNP which only quantifies the economic growth of things and an ever-growing demand for finite natural resources, development must be about people and meeting their fundamental human needs, not about material objects or money. For the purpose of sustainable development, this presents a radically different way of thinking: a new indicator which quantifies the improvement in people’s lives is required and the best development process is the one that will ensure the maximum increase in this indicator of improvement of people’s lives. With the Max-Neef model, sustainable development becomes fully human-centric.

In the past, the fourth system condition for sustainability was worded:

In a sustainable society, resources are used fairly and efficiently in order to meet basic human needs worldwide.

Currently, it reads:

In a sustainable society, people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their ability to meet their needs.

What is the significance of the change in wording and what does this mean for planning? (2 points)

The second wording is less ambiguous and focuses more on the “human” versus “resource” component of the principle. As previously stated in the first wording, it is not clear how one quantifies what is a “fair” and efficient” use of resources as well as what exactly are the basic needs worldwide. Who decides? How is this defined? Also, the phrase is passive, it is not clear – who meets the needs of humans worldwide? In contrast, in the second wording, people themselves decide what they need in order to meet their needs. In this second wording, conditions are ensured so that each person meets the needs that he/she defines.

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Another key point is the inclusion of the word “systematically” which emphasizes the larger, holistic view – a systems thinking theory of the condition of sustainability, and how conditions are created or are undermined. Since the focus is now on how humans define and meet their own needs, planning must focus on the users, not the resources, as well as utilize a systems approach to analyzing, creating and maintaining sustainable conditions.

Consider the following 2 sentences:

Organization XYZ contributes to the violation of System Condition One by….

Organization XYZ violates System Condition One by….

Which wording would you use in a sustainability analysis of an organization? Why? (2 points)

The wording of a) is more appropriate to be used in an organization’s sustainability analysis since it is understood that “contributing” implies that other organizations are also capable of “contributing”, and that the behavior of any one organizations is part of a larger system of behavior which can have an impact on the 4SP. Wording a) recognizes that Organization XYZ is not a sole actor in violating the SP, there are others

who also “contribute”. Wording b) is too all-inclusive – no single organization can violate the 4SP by itself.

The first step an organization must make in order to perform a sustainability analysis of itself is to translate the sustainability principles into their own organizational context. With an understanding that the 4SP are minimal requirements for sustainability, it is necessary to evaluate how it is already violating these 4SP and act first to be restorative, and then act to comply with the 4SP. If an organization does not want to cause more problems into the system, then a logical and ethically relevant rewording of the 4SP would be to add “not contribute” in to the phrasing of the 4SP, which then gives guidance on how to proceed towards achieving sustainability in compliance with the 4SP.

Module 2: Applications of Strategic Sustainable Development 35 points

Organizational Learning and Change

a) Please describe the concept of ‘Creative Tension’ and how it can be useful within Organizational Learning and Change towards sustainability. (2points)

According to Peter Senge, creative tension is the central principle of personal mastery and a key component in personal as well as organizational learning and change. Creative tension comes from a “gap analysis” rather like the one in “backcasting from principles of success”, but on personal (or can be, on an organizational) scale. Creative tension comes from our clearly having a vision of where we want to be in contrast to an accurate assessment of our current reality which does not reach that vision. Awareness of that “gap” between the vision and the existing reality causes that creative tension, which is the source of all creative energy.

In a situation of Organizational Learning and Change towards sustainability, leadership to achieve success in the system starts with a vision of ecological and social sustainability in contrast to current unsustainable reality; this gap causes the creative tension, which can motivate personal and organizational change in order to alter that unacceptable reality.

b) Briefly describe the ‘personal-organizational dynamic’ and give two reasons why it is important to consider when you are planning to move strategically towards sustainability. (3 points)

There are two ways to resolve creative tension, either by raising current reality toward the vision, which requires change, or by lowering the vision toward current reality. Individuals, groups, and organizations that learn how to work with creative tension are better able to use this energy to move reality more reliably toward their visions. Leading through creative tension is different than solving problems. In problem solving, the energy for change comes from attempting to get away from an aspect of current reality that is undesirable; the motivation for change is extrinsic. With creative tension, the energy for change comes from the vision, from what we want to create, juxtaposed with current reality. With creative tension, the motivation is intrinsic and therefore, more powerful and transformative.

c) What are some of the organizational and perceptual challenges that organizations need to overcome when transitioning towards sustainability? (4 points)

Some of the organizational and perceptual challenges that organizations would need to overcome when transitioning towards sustainability include:

A failure to grasp the fundamental paradigm shift that sustainable development requires. By maintaining long-held mental models, organizations fail to fundamentally alter the ways in which they produce goods and services. Such organizations believe that sustainability simply involves better controls, marginal improvements, or other “efficiencies” within their existing, linear business model, strictly following government mandates. Such patriarchal thinking leads to a false sense of security and personal responsibility for sustainable behavior is reduced. Many individuals have the sense that the challenge of sustainability is not something that they can resolve – that someone else is taking care of it (or not). Unfortunately, it can be a belief that having a special Green committee or a particular person who is indicated as being responsible for recycling, advertising “Earth Day ” events, etc. absolves each individual from actively engaging in addressing sustainability.  Therefore there is lacking both a sense of personal concern and responsibility as well as a lack of perceiving that we each have the ability to make a difference, to bring about these necessary changes

Organizations do not incorporate sustainability in their core policies and procedures. When an organization maintains a “Silo” approach to addressing issues related to environmental and social concerns, sustainability is not integrated into all aspects of the organization’s activities.

Lack of a clear vision about sustainability which is limited to only complying with required governmental mandates, perpetuating the status quo, i.e., “business as usual”.

Lacking a systems theory understanding of what causes unsustainability; there is a focus on symptoms and not the root causes of the problems.

Lack of sufficient information that is clear and can easily be understood which explains the negative aspects of the current linear production paradigm and the neoclassical economic model which have brought us to the current unsustainable conditions.

Lack of adequate mechanisms for the personal/organizational learning and change which are necessary in order to alter current held, engrained notions.

13. Urban Planning and Land Use

a) Suppose you had the opportunity to talk to a member of the American Institution of Architects. She knows you are taking the SL1401 distance course and would like to know your overarching opinion on the 10 principles of Living Communities that the Institution has developed. What would you say to her? (3 points)

Architecture, landscape architecture and urban design certainly can influence and improve the quality of life in our nation’s communities, and while the AIA’s 10 Principles of Living Communities (AIA 10 Pr.) are commendable, they are not as inclusive as the FSSD and the four Sustainability Principles. Although the AIA 10 Pr. can reduce a community’s contribution to the violation of the four SP to a certain degree, it does not provide a consistent, organized structure for the achievement of societal and ecological sustainability, in contrast to the FSSD which does.

As a tool, the AIA 10 Pr. mainly focuses on reducing contributions to violations of the first three SP through the utilization of alternative energy, reuse and recycling of materials, implementation of energy and water efficiency programs, etc. AIA 10 Pr. partially tackles the SP4, but it does not explicitly address economic or social issues, nor does it address human fundamental needs (such as protection, participation, understanding, etc.). In the FSSD, the AIA 10 Pr. can be used as one of several tools which can be used to complement each other. When such complementary tools are used together, they are more comprehensive and powerful, allowing an organization to continuously improve towards achieving a principled definition of sustainability.

b) Explain how the aspects of Urban Planning and Land Use covered in Module 2 can be used to help society move towards sustainability. (4 points)

Based on the analysis we derive from the FSSD, 4 SP and systems thinking, supported by the work of ecological economists, we now understand that decision-making for Urban Planning and Land Use – how we plan our physical occupation of space by humans – must focus on the integration of humans within the ecosphere, an integrated urban planning strategy. As Bill Reed eloquently describe in his model of the “Living Systems Approach to Design”, the design process must first begin by understanding the life processes in each unique place in which we are building and then we must design that engagement in order to sustain and restore the health and wealth of the place.

In this new way of operating, the objective toward which the city’s government and institutions work must be to improve the life of citizens and regenerate the health of the natural space which is occupied. The city plan, developed within a process of dialog and with the full participation/representation of the stakeholders, must clearly articulate these core values. Integrated urban planning actions, based on valuing the individual – putting people first – within the ecosphere, conserving and restoring natural resources, will result in an ecological, people-centered city. Commitment to values such as accessibility, transparency, social justice and poverty reduction and efficient resource management will result sustainable urban development. This overarching strategy would inform all aspects of urban planning, including social, economic and environmental programs.

This ecological city-strategy, with strong, coherent governing/design values and a focus on integrated systems, combined with strong, informed leadership, can be used successfully to align the actions of planning departments to meet these strategic objectives, resulting in successful, long-term implementation of strategy.

Integrated transportation and land-use should be a key component in the city’s development, controlling growth, cutting pollution and enhancing the life of residents. The environmental quality and economic efficiency of a city are highly dependent on transportation systems; it is important that these are well-integrated with urban form in order to avoid weak transportation systems and unsustainable dependencies on private cars. A close relationship between public transportation and land-use legislation can be established as a guidance and development tool.

Integrated planning processes structured to assure that planners in all areas know the strategy and are working with a shared vision and are developing their plans together, would avoid the many problems of unlinked development (e.g., not enough provision for green space). The integration of different elements of urban development would also avoid problems associated with piecemeal development such as pollution, traffic congestion and unsustainable fuel consumption rates.

The creation of an independent Institute of Planning can be an effective mechanism for ensuring planning continuity and success regardless of political, economic and social challenges; this forum can serve as a laboratory for finding creative, integrated solutions to urban planning problems, a focal point for learning and ever-evolving organizational growth and change. Developing new models that provide inexpensive, creative urban solutions and reflect local values are an alternative to standard, often-higher-cost approaches. This Institute could also be the channel through which planners and stakeholders could learn about best practices in sustainable urban design which is being implemented successfully in other locations and nations.

14. Economics

a) Environmental economists and ecological economists have different worldviews explaining the relationship between the economy and the ecosphere. Describe the environmental and ecological economists’ worldviews (4 points).

In the 20th century, environmental economics was developed with the intent of internalizing the external effects of our current mode of economic production, such as pollution, social problems, loss of biodiversity, etc., into the economic system. Environmental economics modified the neoclassical economic system by using taxes and subsidies to raise prices on scarce resources while promoting the use of abundant ones. In the model of environmental economics, it is recognized that society and the economy are dependent upon the ecosphere. Their intent is to solve the problem by putting a price on natural resource supply, emissions and other externalities and bringing them into the economic analyses, by pricing mechanism which include: 1.Willingness to pay, 2. Cost to restore, and 3.New universal currencies. Through taxes, resources become more expensive, reflecting the societal and environmental costs of using them and thereby attempting to indirectly reduce their use to sustainable levels. In their model, market participants will behave in the accordance to the “enlightened invisible hand” of the neo-classists, which will result in a society which meets human needs, with acceptable levels of pollution and sustainable use of resources.

Ecological economics is an interdisciplinary field of study that addresses relationships between ecosystems and economic systems in order to develop a deep understanding of society and nature as a basis for effective policies strategies for sustainability. Ecological economics utilizes a holistic, systems approach which views that socioeconom


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