What Is a Systems Perspective?

Because sustainability requires a systems per­spective, sustainable design must also address the system, whether it is a market, an ecosys­tem, a social system, or the entire world. This allows the design process of sustainability to

address the environment, markets, companies, and people.

It’s easy to understand the concept of a sys­tems perspective: the system is the sum total of everything affected by an activity. A systems perspective requires an appreciation (at a mini­mum) and an understanding (at best) of how various systems interact with each other. These include environmental, financial, and social systems.

It can be more difficult to understand the boundaries of the systems affected by a par­ticular action and within a particular domain.

In addition, measuring these interactions is often faulty, at best. And keeping this perspec­tive in mind during the entire development process isn’t easy. However, it’s possible. You don’t have to create perfect solutions in every way. What you have to do is make conscious, informed considerations across the spectrum of financial, environmental, and social issues, just like you should across the dimensions of customer experience. Your solutions should

be better than the baseline (what others devise without considering these issues) and can im­prove over time.

Consider the impact that population has on ev­erything (see Figure 1.1). All issues addressed being equal, the biggest one is probably over­population. Solving this one challenge would have the greatest impact on all of the others. If the world had even one-half of the population it presently has, many of our more pressing


FIGURE 1.1. /Ж http://www. flickr. com/photos/rosenfeldmedia/3258956592

World population.

problems would simply disappear. At half the population, food and resources would prob­ably be abundant. Population, however, takes literally generations to change. If people, col­lectively, gave birth to only half the number of children now, it would be 40 or 50 years before the effects would truly be visible. And how can we drastically reduce the earth’s population in any socially acceptable way? China instituted a one-child-per-couple policy to great outcry, and its effect has yet to be truly felt. Could that solution be successful in other cultures? What are our other options?