Using systems thinking for groundbreaking sustainability innovations

Dora Hietavirta
Apr 26 · 4 min read

The Toolshed meetup is Systems Change Finland’s event series which focuses on the tools and approaches that can be used in Systems Thinking and Systems Change. April’s meetup was organized in association with our global friends in the Systems Innovation network. It was hosted by Systems Change Finland’s Dora Hietavirta and attended live by about 135 people on Zoom and YouTube.

In the 20.4.2021 meetup we got an introduction to an integrated approach to sustainability from Tom Bosschaert (Twitter, LinkedIn), Founder and Director of Except Integrated Sustainability. As a systems thinker, sustainability expert, designer, and entrepreneur, Tom has been pioneering sustainable development with a passion for the past two decades. He believes that sustainability is not the property of things, but the property of a dynamic system. He has put this theory into practice since the age of 19 with his consulting and innovation agency Except, working on over 800 projects worldwide towards a more sustainable future.

Except’s work is based on the Symbiosis in Development (SiD) systems-thinking framework, which encompasses domains such as the circular and bio-based economy, social justice, iterative design, and crowd-based development. Except brings together people from across sectors to deliver concepts and strategies that are realistic and feasible to inspire cities, companies, governance, and industry to create a just and resilient society.

One of the main ideas behind the framework, and what makes the SiD approach unique, is that it combines holistic thinking and reductionist thinking, building on the strength of both. Systems thinking is great in theory, but how to ‘do’ it in practice? The SiD framework walks us through a(n iterative) journey from the more familiar object-level analysis to the broadening of our understanding of the networks and systems in question to then finally developing actionable plans and roadmap with the insights gained along the way.

One of the most inspiring examples of SiD in use is the case of the IKEA Catalogue.

How do you make an annual print, the largest in the world, sustainable, when the options of not printing it, or turning it into an educational material on sustainability are out of the question?

Tom reflected on the case: “We always look for the smartest lever to effect maximum change within a system, be it a company, a large city, or a global supply chain in this case. We’ve done this process hundreds of times. We know it works, but each time is equally thrilling because you simply don’t know what will come to light. Where do the hidden gems lie hidden this time?” In this case, a powerful solution was found in the network.

While data about suppliers were available for decision-making, it was not well-utilized. Making sense of that data, identifying the key people in the network, and visualizing what mattered made all the difference. They also realized that feeding back critical information on IKEA’s decision-making processes would set up healthy competition between suppliers. Competing for green goals in the industry, of course, has an impact way beyond IKEA.

And that is what systems change looks like in practice.

If you are interested to know more and listen to Tom dive a bit deeper into the theory behind SiD as well as hear about other exciting projects, you can find the recording of our event here:

Tom’s slides:

The Symbiosis in Development Book is open source and can be downloaded from www.Thinksid.org

To get even more inspired, you can find further information about projects and cases at: www.except.eco

And if you’d like to deepen your understanding of the method, you can take part in SiD Courses Online at the following places:

Except’s Open Course — Introduction to SiD (Free)

Expert Track Course — Advanced Theory, Method and Mapping (Subscription per month in Futurelearn)

Follow Except Integrated Sustainability on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).

Interested to learn more about Systems Change Finland and about how to join our community?

Systems Change Finland seeks to cultivate a society that can deal with systemic and complex challenges. The purpose of Systems Change Finland is to promote the application of approaches that help people, organizations and society understand and work with systems and complexity.

Thank you for stopping by and have a great day!

Systems Change Finland

Cultivating a society that can deal with systemic and complex challenges

Systems Change Finland

Systems Change Finland seeks to cultivate a society that can deal with systemic and complex challenges. The purpose of Systems Change Finland is to promote the application of approaches that help people, organizations and society understand and work with systems and complexity.

Dora Hietavirta

Written by

Systems Change Finland

Systems Change Finland seeks to cultivate a society that can deal with systemic and complex challenges. The purpose of Systems Change Finland is to promote the application of approaches that help people, organizations and society understand and work with systems and complexity.

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