Our choices matter.
Systems-thinking is an ideal problem-solving framework to sustainability that allows us to better understand the impacts of our choices as individuals and as a society at large.
It is based on the belief that the world is entirely made up of interconnected and interdependent systems. Indeed, everything we produce comes from nature and we, humans, depend on nature to survive given that we need air, food and water. Don’t we?
“By seeing the world as a series of dynamic, interconnected systems at play, one can develop a far more detailed perspective of the causes and dynamic relations that contribute to and evolve the problems we see around us. It’s a bit like mental gymnastics or yoga – the more you practice systems thinking, the more flexible your brain will become in seeking solutions to complex problems.”leyla acaroglu, founder of the unschool of disruptive design
What are systems anyway?
Systems are a set of elements that perform individual functions but also collaborate to form a complex whole.
Let’s look at our bodies, for instance: the breathing system enables us to breathe, while the digestive system allows us to process food. Though each plays a separate role, what happens if one of the two collapses? You get the idea.
Linear vs. Circular
So here is the thing.
Our entire economic system is based on a linear approach also known as Take, Make, Waste.
As a matter of fact, we regularly extract resources from the ground to make goods and services, which we use, and when we no longer need them, we get rid of them. Because our brains are often set on autopilot mode, we then purchase new goods and services, and systematically go through this linear path – over and over again.
Take, Make, Waste
Since we usually don’t have to deal with the end of life of our products, we tend to fool ourselves.
Each day, our waste magically disappears and we move on without really thinking about it. Just like everything else in life, we don’t really think about things until they become a problem.
Take running water, for instance.
Do you ever pause to consider how incredible it is that when we open the tap, water runs through the pipes? Yet as soon as any issue arises in our plumbing systems, every single drop begins to matter, right?
We may separate our trash into the various recycling bins and this may even leave us with feelings of pride or a sense of accomplishment.
Sadly, there’s an uncomfortable truth to understand and digest here: while products have the ability to perform a specific function, it doesn’t automatically mean they will actually perform it.
What does this depend on? Context, mainly.
Just like words may lose their meaning once removed from their original sentence, an apple (that would easily biodegrade in nature) will not be able to decompose as well when thrown together with the rest of our organic waste – into a plastic bag – regardless of whether or not that bag was biodegradable and placed into an organic bin.
In addition, while the zero waste movement has helped us draw more attention to products’ end of life, the problem with linear economy begins right at the start. That is, as soon as we extract raw materials from the ground.
We are consuming resources at a much faster rate than our planet is able to replenish them.
Needless to say, the current system is no longer working.
And that is what circular economy is all about: transforming the way we design products, how we choose to interact with them, and what we do with them once we no longer need them.
Only then can we start thinking sustainably; meeting our needs – without compromising the ones of the generations to come – while respecting the earth’s boundaries.
“Shifting the system involves everyone and everything: businesses, governments, and individuals; our cities, our products, and our jobs. By designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems we can reinvent everything.”ellen macarthur foundation, what is circular economy
Our choices matter
When it comes to us individuals, this can often feel complicated, extremely overwhelming, and rather frustrating.
Truth is, it is complicated, overwhelming, and frustrating if we each think of ourselves as one tiny little dot.
But when we pull out our systems thinking hats, we can begin to notice all the other beautiful and colorful dots around us that come together to form a whole: each of us plays a part that inevitably influences the rest.
Are you wondering where to start?
They say that every action begins with a thought. Indeed, our thoughts turn into intentions or decisions that lead us to act – or not. And, as obvious as this sounds, it is important to recognize that whether we end up acting or not is a choice in itself.
We choose all the time.
In addition, the outcome of our choices – no matter how small – do impact our lives and the world around us like a domino effect. Our choices matter. We can choose to move away from guilt, shame or fear and become aware instead.
We can choose to make more informed decisions, show more integrity, and change the way we think, decide, communicate and act. This may be challenging, but as Brené Brown beautifully says:
An invitation to journal:
Take a few minutes to list all the items you see within the space of your choice.
● How are they connected to you?
● To each other?
● To nature?
● Why did you choose each item?
Pick an item (cell phone, shampoo, mattress etc.). Over the next two weeks, why don’t you get curious and try finding out:
● How many materials were pulled out of the ground to make up that object?
● How was it manufactured?
● What packaging was required to protect it and how was it shipped?
● How did it serve you?
● What did or will you do with it once you no longer need it?
● What choices could help you shift the system from linear to circular?
● What choices could help you extend the product’s life?