About the Alliance for Strategic Sustainable Development

  1. Preamble
  2. Abstract
  3. Executive Summary
  4. Background
  5. Reactive policies not enough
  6. Previous research and implementation
  7. A Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development
  8. Coming research and implementation
  9. Work package 1 – A principled definition of sustainability
  10. Work package 2 – A “toolbox” for SSD
  11. Work package 3 – A virtual learning environment    
  12. Institutional structure
  13. Appendices

Preamble

Sustainability – the greatest challenge in human history. It is a fantastic human experience to understand basic principles for worthy goals together, across disciplinary and professional and ideological boundaries, and realize that we need each other to get there. An example is experts from different fields curing cancer; pathologists, radiologists, surgeons, radiotherapists, nurses, social workers, etc., having one and the same definition of cure of cancer: killing the last cancer cell, without killing the patient. These two principles informed the science of cancer cure before we had cured the first patient, and today we cure over 50 %. Knowledge from each “silo” is then pooled to arrive at compliance with the robust set of basic principles that all the professionals share as boundary conditions for success.

Such principles are needed for success of planning in complex systems. Against the background of this fantastic opportunity, it is depressing that so few of our leaders know how to put sustainability principles defining full sustainability on the table, and to shape their cooperation, analyses, debates, action programs, stakeholder alliances, summits and economies accordingly. The result is piecemeal attempts to deal with one issue at a time, commonly solving one sustainability problem by inventing another. Strategic planning towards sustainability is not something that you simply pick up as you go along, if only you are sufficiently engaged in public debate, have a certain field of expertise, or remain faithful to a certain ideology. What we need today are support to decision makers open to learning this competence, and the language that comes with it, a language that makes multi‐sectorial collaboration possible at the scales required. Only then can leaders make relevance of their leadership, cooperate efficiently across discipline‐ and sector boundaries, and only then can they ask the relevant questions of scientists and experts. This is not incompatible with a strong economy or with “competitiveness”. It is just the opposite: We are now experiencing increasing costs and lost opportunities due to lack of competence in strategic sustainable development. Neither is such competence incompatible with the freedom to embrace different values and ideologies, nor with the creative tensions that may arise from the confrontation of such values and ideologies with each other. On the contrary, the potential value of creative tensions increases when they are not rooted in lack of knowledge and misunderstandings.  

Abstract

The Alliance for Strategic Sustainable Development (www.alliance‐ssd.org) here presents a program to employ and develop further a unifying Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD). Key elements of the FSSD are:

    1. a robust principled definition of social and ecological sustainability for the global civilization,
    2. logical guidelines by which any planning project, sector, organization, or region can put itself in context of the large-scale sustainability definition, and
    3. logical guidelines for how to systematically become part of the solution in a stepwise manner that will improve the bottom line conditions for financial returns.

The FSSD approach offers effective management of system boundaries and trade‐offs. It makes sustainable resource potentials for various technical systems calculable and possible to model and simulate. It also offers a possibility for scientists to cooperate more effectively, not only with each other across disciplines, but also with Mayors, CEO’s, Policy‐makers and other decision makers across sectors, regions, value‐chains and stake‐holder groups. It guides selection, development and combination of concepts, methods, tools and management systems. It makes it possible to prevent damages, even from yet unknown problems, to reduce costs and to capture innovation possibilities.

The overall program is divided into two integrated and symbiotic parts.

Central program: This is the program for which we now ask for funding. The research is here focused on the further development the FSSD itself, including development of a more operational definition of social sustainability than we currently have in the FSSD. The research is here also focused on the FSSD’s user‐friendliness for interdisciplinary and cross‐ sector cooperation for sustainability, including development of aligned generic methods and tools that can act as bridges to more specific and detailed methods and tools. At the heart of this program is also to learn how to create a growing community of researchers and practitioners, working more effectively and cost‐efficiently across sectors and disciplines. The work in this program is dependent on feedback from the thematic projects and their respective applications of the FSSD.

Thematic projects: Linked to the central program we have a growing number of university‐ governed projects from all around the world, each employing the FSSD to help structuring their respective research projects in the context of the step‐wise approach to global sustainability. Using the FSSD in this way offers a unique potential for more effective cooperation between the scientists and with practitioners and thus offers a new type of research that is urgently needed at the global scale.

Executive Summary

The challenge

Our greatest sustainability problem is not climate change, shrinking biodiversity, poverty, or any other single contemporary sustainability problem. It is the lack of strategic knowledge on how these problems are interconnected and can be tackled step‐by‐step while strengthening our economies. The most urgent sustainability challenge is to arrive at a critical mass of leaders mastering the logics of putting sustainability principles defining full sustainability on the table, and only then ask questions about alternative routes to get there. First‐rate natural and social scientists in the fields of climatology, ecology, chemistry, economy, etc., typically provide data on negative developments in the socio‐ecological system, as well as on various possible means to deal with each of those. Policy‐makers are expected to devise strategies and agreements directly from this information. However, it is not possible, already from a theoretical point of view, to arrive directly from myriads of empirical data to clever strategies. We need a structured systems perspective to show how impacts, as well as proposed measures, relate to each other. This challenge can only be approached by scientific means; trial and error will not suffice in time for a challenge this big. Absent a generic framework to organize data in a comprehensive way to first appreciate the “business‐case”, i.e. the self‐benefit of sustainable development, and then to inform strategic planning and decision‐making, leaders and policy makers do not see how to avoid creating new problems in attempting to solve others. Nor do they see how to deal with conflicts between profit demands and ethics, how to manage trade‐offs, how to deal with system boundaries, and, to that end, how to design effective means of supply chain management, stakeholder dialogues, and inter‐disciplinary cooperation. Experts in scientific disciplines are typically not experts in strategic planning and strategic planners are typically not experts in science. Solutions are to be found in the inter phase and a shared framework including robust principles for sustainability provides the missing link.

A clear purpose – the missing link for a paradigm shift

We cannot keep sidestepping the key element of strategic planning, which is to define what we want to be heading towards, the objective. Not knowing where we are heading, we cannot even attempt strategic systems thinking and rational step‐wise approaches. If sustainability is what we want, then a powerful conception of that objective must be on the table. Every leader responsible for investments must be able to clearly picture it, be free to improve upon it, and be engaged to own it as a personal and societal mission. By piling up ad hoc projects piecemeal, each addressing a separate sustainability thread, we have not been weaving an inspiring tapestry. In previous studies, we have shown that a continuous lack of this piece means a lost opportunity for appropriate systems thinking around the sustainability challenge. Further, we have shown how a number of scientific breakthroughs have been possible by completing systems science with that same piece. We have shown how a framework built on those breakthroughs, and employed in cooperation between scientists and decision makers, has global potential. A growing group of decision makers across the world is using it to tackle the sustainability challenge. It brings confidence in its rugged simplicity, easy adaptability and power to inspire. These leaders understand (i) the “business‐case” of sustainability, i.e. not only the common good but also the self‐benefits of pro‐activity, and they know how to (ii) integrate their visions with robust sustainability principles, (iii) assess their current situation in this perspective and (iv) move strategically towards their respective sustainable visions. For references describing previous studies, see the bibliography in Appendix 1 and for some examples of application of the FSSD in municipalities and businesses around the world, see Appendix 2. Our vision is now to moving from our current documented case studies in science, municipal planning and business, to a situation where it will be a mainstream standard in the world to put sustainability principles on the table as the overall boundary conditions for planning objectives and only then evaluate optional investments with regard to their potential to serve as economic stepping stones towards the objectives.

Real Change ‐ a tested model behind the alliance

The underlying objective of the alliance is to serve leaders with the science they need for strategic, systematic, decision making. To that end, we will develop FSSD related science in parallel with its application in planning and action programs of those leaders. We have already encountered how decision making in line with the FSSD has led to needs for new types of indicators, new types of management systems, new ways of modeling, simulation, supply chain management, life‐cycle assessments, green labeling, etc. A model for systematic cooperation between scientists and decision makers along those lines has already been tested. This happened in cooperation with five Swedish agencies in a three year research program called Real Change (see the three‐year report of Real Change on www.alliance‐ssd.org). We will now scale up this model, i.e. increase the number of researchers and leaders involved.

Program design and research questions

A host of scientists have already signed up to participate in the alliance. They will apply the FSSD to structure research on product‐service system innovation, green chemistry, traffic planning, business management, communication interfaces, urban planning, energy systems, etc. See abstracts describing the research in each thematic project in Appendix 3. Each of the thematic projects come with their own money to pursue their respective sustainability related research questions in a way that helps them (i) see the relationship between their respective projects and the full strategic scope of sustainability for the global civilization, and thereby to (ii) cooperate more effectively with other scientists and practitioners who employ the same way of structuring of their respective projects.

What we seek money for in this application is to (i) develop the FSSD further, specifically as regards a more operational definition of social sustainability, to (ii) improve the FSSD’s user‐ friendliness for interdisciplinary and cross‐sector cooperation for sustainability, specifically as regards aligned generic methods and tools that can act as bridges to more specific and detailed methods and tools, and to (iii) explore the knowledge management and the scientific/technical/financial/social potential of this unique way of cooperation. The latter requires a validated way of cross‐linking all the scientists and practitioners across the globe, so that the potential of employing one and the same unifying framework is fully exploited. We want to create a virtual research organization that is tightly held together without building a palace, and to enable this by use of a robust mental model, modern IT, and new knowledge on effective network cooperation. So, the research questions of the central program are:

  1. How can sustainability be defined, and specifically, is it possible to define social sustainability in an as operational way as we have been able to do for ecological sustainability?
  2. How can strategies in companies, municipalities, regions, nations and international bodies and forums be guided to support fulfillment of such a definition, and specifically, is it possible to create a “toolbox” with self‐applicable bridging methods and tools for strategic sustainable development?
  3. How can effective cooperation for strategic sustainable development in the alliance be organized, and specifically, is it possible to create a virtual learning environment, and effective knowledge management, to allow for sharing of knowledge between participating scientists and practitioners at a scale needed for global change?

To effectively respond to those questions we need to develop the FSSD even more for effective cooperation across disciplines and sectors, develop aligned support methods and tools and shorten the lead times between scientific breakthroughs and real change in society. The design of the alliance, with independent universities and decision makers from different sectors of society, cooperating effectively by use of the unifying FSSD, is unique. It offers a potential to implement real change in society at a scale needed for global change. Our mission is to make the FSSD, with aligned support methods and tools and best practices, available to any decision maker with strategic ambitions.

Background

Un‐sustainability is often managed as reactions to a series of negative impacts in the ecological, social and economic system:

Ecological system: Climate change, shrinking ground water tables, deforestation, eco‐ toxicity, eroding fish stocks and – as a scaring result – loss of biodiversity and resilience and productivity of the global ecosystem. The most worrying aspect of all those problems is not the sum of negative effects. Even more worrying is the complexity of their interconnectedness with serious risks for complex feedback‐loops bringing the system closer and closer to tipping points for collapse. An example is how climate change is moving climate zones leading to loss of biomass and further CO2 injected into the biosphere. It also leads to aggravation of poverty and starvation and, secondary to this, a worsening of deforestation and other signs of un‐sustainable management of ecosystems with still more CO2 added to the atmosphere. For more on vicious cycles, see also social and economic systems below. More worrying is also the fact that the global ecological system if far from being completely understood. A natural conclusion from this is to develop science to more effectively tackle the myriad of problems at a basic principled level.

Social system: More than one billion people on Earth live in extreme poverty. Eruptions of anger and conflicts follow from this as well as from competition for the shrinking ecological resources. On top of this we see increasing streams of conflict refugees and “eco‐refugees”. And, post as well as propter to such problems ‐ corruption, segregation, violence, terrorism and growing geopolitical tensions caused by the erosion of trust between people, and between people and their leaders and public institutions. This erosion of trust also underpins the tensions between people from the developing and industrialized nations, respectively. We have seen numerous examples of this through all the summits on sustainable development and on climate change. If we, in the western industrialized world, really mean it when we say that we want to help the developing world avoid our mistakes, how trustworthy are we if we do not develop sustainable technologies, infrastructures and cultures ourselves? This question also points at a huge opportunity. Un‐sustainability is a mightier and more dangerous enemy than people from other cultures or belief‐systems. We have this enemy in common, which could bring us together for shared learning, cooperation, and healing of relationships across nations.

Economic system: Costs caused by the above problems are currently increasing, e.g., increasing costs for catastrophes following climate change and increasing costs for shrinking mineral reserves and of ecosystem resources. Examples also include opportunity costs for failing to foresee changes on future markets, costs for conflict management, increasing transaction costs that follow eroded trust, and financial collapses due to difficulties to set values right in the dynamic and rapidly changing geopolitical system. It is important to state upfront, that the economic system is different from the two others in that it is entirely a human construct, designed to serve as a means for something else, not to be a goal in itself. The logical and strategic implications of this can be exploited in a more effective and relevant way than is commonly understood, and probably with less radical modifications of the (elegant) economic system than is mostly believed. The alliance highlights this aspect throughout its research program, and builds on scientific breakthroughs that can only be discovered in the interface between ecological and social sciences on the one hand, and the strategic, economic, sciences on the other. We believe that the economic system, in context of sustainability, cannot be adequately addressed outside the realm of strategic leadership with clear visions of sustainability and logical guidelines for how to get there step‐wise.

Reactive policies not enough

Policy‐makers and business managers have hitherto been largely reactive to the above problems, often tackling one problem by inventing another. An example is when the irritant gas ammoniac was replaced by the cheap, non‐toxic and non‐bioaccumulative CFC’s, only to later discover that the whole ozone layer was eroding as a consequence. Some sustainability principle was obviously violated. Which principle? Could we learn from such dangerous impacts to see the underlying principles violated? Would this make it possible to evaluate actions already before we discover new and hitherto unknown impacts downstream in cause effect chains from violation of the same principles? Or are we doomed to run after reality, chasing impacts that grow fast in numbers, and “fixing” what was erroneously planned from the beginning? Another example of the difficulties to manage complexity is proposals to increasing tax on use of resources while reducing it on labor. Though this is relatively easy to defend from a theoretical point of view, such measures may cause political repercussions with regard to value‐based disputes about “winners and losers” and with regard to differences in opinions on how far we need to reduce resource flows for ecological reasons. An effort to solve a sustainability problem in the ecosystem may cause an economic problem with sustainability impacts in the societal system, etc. Again, how could we design principles, based on such experiences, that could help us avoid problems upstream in planning situations and across sectors – not only fixing them once they have occurred downstream? How would a societal discourse look like, that could creatively manage tensions caused by true differences in values amongst participating parties, while avoiding tensions that are built on poor knowledge and misunderstandings of empirical data, and of each other? It seems to us that a shared mental model, built on robust principles for sustainability, and an understanding of its self‐benefits, the “business case”, would empower such a more effective societal discourse.

Transition strategies cannot be derived directly from the system. Yet we have seen repeated examples of such attempts in the summit meetings of Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, Durban, etc., where negotiators have tried to move directly from scientific data to policy making without any agreed framework for sustainable decision making in between. First‐rate natural and social scientists in the fields of climatology, ecology, chemistry, economy etc., typically provide data on negative developments in the socio‐ecological system, as well as on various possible means to deal with each of those. Policy‐makers are expected to devise strategies and agreements directly from this information. This results in lost opportunities. Absent a generic framework to organize data in a comprehensive way for decision‐making, complexity increases as more problems are inevitably added and models become unmanageable. This leads to serious risks of misunderstanding each other’s individual frameworks for organizing data, with corresponding risks of also failing to satisfy common as well as individual interests relating to sustainable development.

Previous research and implementation

The question thus becomes: Is it possible to link science to policy in a more effective manner, so that policymakers can make better use of empirical data in arriving at their decisions?

We cannot keep sidestepping the key element of strategic planning, which is to define what we want to be heading towards, the objective. Not knowing where we are heading, we cannot even attempt strategic systems thinking and rational step‐wise approaches. If social and ecological sustainability is what we want, then a powerful conception of its form must be on the table, and the right conclusions be drawn as regards economic and other means to get there. Every leader responsible for investments must be able to clearly picture it, be free to improve upon it through give and take, and be engaged to own it as a personal and societal mission. By piling up ad hoc projects piecemeal, each addressing a separate sustainability thread, we have not been weaving an inspiring tapestry and the number of forerunners and role models is still far too low for the needed paradigm shift. Trusting that we have in us what it takes to construct a sustainable civilization is the key foundation of our eventual success. Below in the FSSD section, we will return to the significance of robust principles of objectives, or ‘boundary conditions’. To have access to such is a prerequisite for adequate systems thinking of any planning endeavor in any complex system.

Our proposed sustainability tapestry is already in production. A fast growing breed of decision makers across the world has started learning how to apply a way of thinking about sustainability that brings self‐confidence in its rugged simplicity, easy adaptability, and power to inspire. They:

  1. Have understood the business case of sustainability, i.e. fully embracing:
    1. the risks and costs of being part of the un‐sustainability problem,
    2. the opportunity costs for not understanding the fast growing sustainability‐drivenmarkets and conversely,
    3. the full scope of opportunities to be ahead of the game, and foreseeing what themarket will ask for further ahead, when we face even more dire consequencesfrom un‐sustainable development,
    4. that improved public relations, though often regarded as the only self‐beneficialaspect of sustainable development, adds but some marginal further financialreturns and can merely be regarded as the icing on the cake.
  2. Work together with stakeholders across department‐, sector‐ and discipline boundaries to analyze how their own workplaces / organizations / cities / municipalities / regions / planning‐topics relate to the same set of basic principles for sustainability for the whole civilization.
  3. Design step‐wise approaches to bridge the gap between the current situation and full sustainability while ensuring that each investment does not only prepare for the next, but flexibly so and while bringing income to sustain the transition.
  4. Allow such goal‐orientation to inform the socio‐ecological‐economic conclusions, i.e.: (i) manage system boundaries; (ii) negotiate trade‐offs; (iii) calculate sustainable resource potentials; (iv) make interdisciplinary and cross‐sector cooperation

It has been shown that this way of thinking has been useful for strategic step‐by‐step decision‐making in companies, municipalities and regions, and for the assessments of various kinds of concepts, methods and tools – see below where the framework is outlined.

The FSSD is continuously refined in peer‐review, and is equipped with more and more support methods and tools. For this new research program, we regard the logics of the in‐ going theory as heavier than indeed any of the empiric data and case studies collected during the 20 + year build‐up of the theory. With this new program, the best is yet to come. It is this logical sequence that emphasizes the pioneering breakthroughs this application is built on and makes this program unique:

  1. If you want to be strategic, you must—by definition—at least know where you want to be, the objective.
  2. The objective can in general not be defined in detail when it comes to complex systems. For complex endeavors in complex systems we need basic principles as boundary conditions, not simplistic images of goals or scenarios that are often applied in other backcasting approaches. Technical and cultural developments keep changing the conditions, so it is wise to avoid guesses about the future at the level of detail. However, robust and operational boundary conditions for success, well grounded in validated science, allows for robust direction in the planning, as well as pragmatic and open ended strategies at the level of detail, and re‐evaluations as sustainability games unfold. Examples of boundary conditions as the overall guide for actions in complex systems are the principles of checkmate and the strategic guidelines to approach compliance with those. The checkmate principles do not change as the game unfolds, but the conditions and consequent conclusions to comply with the principles do. So the player continuously reassesses the game, as it unfolds, through a lens of the checkmate principles. In complex endeavors in complex systems it is often, like in chess, a strategic mistake to lock prematurely on the specifics of the objectives. Nobody can look into the future, but we can invent it. Applying the FSSD means to allow planning to occur within the constraints of the endgame, i.e. in this case the boundary conditions of global sustainability. And in our research we are going to ensure that the development of new methods and tools also occur within those boundary conditions, e.g. modeling and simulation within sustainability constraints.
  3. If principles are to be basic and operational definitions of objectives, the principles must be:
    1. Necessary (but not more): to avoid imposing unnecessary restrictions and to avoid confusion over elements that may be debatable;
    2. Sufficient (and not less): to avoid gaps in the thinking, i.e. to allow elaboration into second and higher orders of principles from a complete base;
    3. General: to be applicable in any arena, at any scale, by any member in a team and all stakeholders, regardless of field of expertise, to allow for cross‐ disciplinary and cross‐sector collaboration
    4. Concrete: to actually guide problem solving and re‐design and a step‐by‐ step approach in real life planning;
    5. Non‐overlapping: to enable comprehension and facilitate development of indicators for monitoring of progress;
  4. When you have defined a goal by principles fulfilling such criteria, and only then, you can obtain the following:
    1. The resource potential becomes calculable. If you do not know how to define the objective, you cannot even attempt to calculate the resource potential and determine the degrees of freedom within the constraints of the objective. But if you do, your planning and decision‐making can be supported by a scientific estimation of the resource potential (using, e.g., physics and ecology), rather than based only on the constraints of, e.g., current trends, technologies and cultures.
    2. Trade‐offs can be more rationally managed. Advantages and disadvantages often relate to different variables and parameters and come in different units. “Is it better to risk polluting with Mercury than to waste energy (as in the case of low‐energy light bulbs)?” Analyzing the either/or of snapshots has limited strategic value. However, if you know the end goal, you can evaluate various options for their capacity to serve as stepping‐stones to bringing the process to a stage where the trade‐off does not exist. You model optional routes to complete success, rather than evaluating snapshots as good vs. bad.
    3. System boundaries setting can be guided by the Purpose. Science puts demands on clear and adequate system boundaries when systems are studied. Sustainability discourses in an organization often come with debates around where to draw the system boundaries. Trained scholars tend to ask: “Do you mean the factory with its walls, or do you include: Clients? Supply chains? Other stakeholders? The whole world?” The latter is often proposed with a little smile, to demonstrate how un‐imaginable that would be. Yet, the truth is; when it comes to sustainability, the whole world does count, to some level of detail. Again, basic principles of objectives provide a way forward. You put yourself in the shoes of the CEO or project manager and ask yourself what, in the whole world, need to be taken into account to make the respective organization/planning endeavor/region support societal compliance with sustainability principles and you let this inform your decision on system boundaries, from geography to disciplines and beyond. The relevant aspects are then chosen, where after the modeling per se is no more complex or difficult than traditional modeling based on reductionist samples of aspects.
    4. Interdisciplinary cross‐sector cooperation can be better facilitated. With a principled definition of the objective, each expert group becomes better in drawing the relevant knowledge from their respective silos. Again, each sector that needs to be taken into account to comply with the sustainability principles is brought to the table. The “clinical conference” brought to organizational and societal planning.
    5. Unknown problems can be avoided. You can do much better than just fixing the impacts you already know. If you re‐design your respective area of responsibility by basic principles that are robust for success, you will not learn all the detailed consequences from not doing so. For instance, you can avoid contributing to increasing Zinc or Silver levels in natural systems, without knowing exactly what further increases in such concentrations may imply at certain (unknown) eco‐toxic thresholds. Just like we should have done, e.g., with CFCs already at the time of introduction, and already before we learnt what they do to the ozone layer.
    6. Selection, use and development of other concepts, methods, tools and management systems can be guided. A principled definition of the objective, fulfilling the listed criteria, makes it possible to make better use of other existing concepts, methods and tools for sustainable development, by guiding the selection of such concepts, methods and tools that are necessary for reaching the objective. It can also help identify a need for development, and it can guide such development, of new concepts, methods and tools.

We now want to heavily expand the number of scientists exploiting the unique deliverables of this way of thinking. The alliance will jointly empower that to happen, convening a growing community of scientists working actively and systematically to advance their respective fields of competence. They will then make use of the FSSD structure, and make use of it also for more effective cooperation across disciplinary borders. This is to provide more relevant support to practitioners thinking in the same way, and partnering up to constitute the alliance. An example of effective cross‐sector cooperation is a clinical conference to cure a patient with cancer. This requires effective cooperation across disciplines of pathology (to get the cellular diagnosis right), radiology (to get the distribution of the tumor right), surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy (to draw the right conclusions as regards therapy) and nurses, physiotherapists and social workers (to make the care right). None of these professional groups can cure the patient on their own, but together they cure above 50 % today. This is because they share, at the basic principle level, the two principles of success: (i) to kill the last cancer cell, (ii) without killing the patient. Those two principles in fact guided the science on this arena already before the first cancer patient was cured some decades ago. Today, the patient is the global civilization, gradually dying from the deadly disease un‐sustainability. How can we cure this patient, by pooling relevant knowledge and opportunities from each “silo” of chemistry, physics, ecology, engineering, economy, politics, etc.? How can we even approach this question, unless we have a shared mental model outlining cure at the largest possible system level?

A Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development

From the above logical sequence, follows the framework for strategic sustainable development (FSSD). It is constituted by five interrelated but distinct levels (see Figure 1):

Figure 1. Framework for strategic sustainable development.

 

I ‐ Systems level: Knowing enough about the system

The first level in the FSSD explores the world as a system. To apply an analogy, the systems level in the game of chess contains the game rules, the pieces, and the playing board. For organizations, this level is often seen as context dependent, ranging from the “market” to the “factory floor”, or from the “governance” to the “citizens” and is often a challenge to comprehend. The systems approach resolves this debate in the case of sustainability. While smaller boundaries are useful at other levels in the framework, when considering global sustainability this level is bounded by the global socio‐ecological system, that is, the biosphere with human societies; our knowledge of stocks, flows, biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity and resilience; and the basic relationships between human practices and their impacts. This system is explored at a large‐systems perspective to discover and model the growing threats to individual organizations that are relatively economically dependent on being part of the “un‐sustainability” problem (see level II below). Furthermore, the system is studied to derive basic mechanisms by which the system can gradually move, and is being moved, into a course of systematic decline regarding its potential to sustain civilization.

II ‐ Success level: Defining success in the system

This level describes the overall principles of success (Robèrt, 1994, Holmberg, 1995, Broman et al., 2000, Holmberg and Robèrt, 2000, Ny, 2006) that are fulfilled in the system (level I) when the organization or planning endeavour is in compliance with its vision and objectives, informed by generic basic principles for global socio‐ecological sustainability.

How can the individual organization’s vision be informed by global socio‐ecological principles? The innovative solution to this question is to allow basic mechanisms for being unsustainable within the system to be applied as exclusion criteria or boundary conditions for the redesign of society. “How can our organization develop such that it does not contribute to violation of civilization’s basic sustainability principles?” To departure from “success” at the largest possible systems scale, and ask about the contribution to the problem, makes this approach applicable at any scale and any sector or field for sustainable development. Returning to the game analogy, the purpose is to checkmate one’s opponent within the constraints of the game (level I). Success can happen in almost any number of combinations, all complying with the basic principles of checkmate. For business, this level has traditionally been defined via “maximized shareholder value” and “continuous growth.” While these are not disregarded with respect to sustainability, success is defined within the expanded bounds of level 1. This systems perspective informs the three levels of the FSSD that follow. The current formulation of the sustainability principles (SP) of the FSSD is: In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing (i) concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust (such as fossil carbon or metals); (ii) concentrations of substances produced by society (such as nitrogen compounds, CFCs, and endocrine disrupters); or (iii) degradation by physical means (such as large‐scale clear‐ cutting of forests and over‐fishing). Moreover, (iv) people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs (such as from the abuse of political and economic power leading to decreasing inter personal trust and trust between individuals and societal institutions). These four principles were derived by asking and exploring what are the primary mechanisms that, when undertaken systemically and together with many actors, lead to the known aspects and impacts found in the sustainability challenge. The answer revealed how myriad downstream impacts (e.g., air and water pollution or loss of topsoil in poorly managed ecosystems) are rooted in a few systemic upstream errors of societal design and operation (e.g., the systemic and poorly controlled distribution of persistent compounds, systemic overharvesting of areas, etc., related to the above principles). A “not” was inserted into each category to form the above first‐order sustainability principles. And again, to make these SPs relevant to the individual organization, we transformed the principles to policy principles by simply stating that the organization’s “success” in this regard means that in the future it will no longer contribute to the societal violation of any of these principles. In concrete planning endeavors, this means to inform “in‐house” visions and missions and core values and strategic goals by use of the SPs. In this way the strategically planning organization strives towards an image of the goal when it is part of the global solution rather than the problem. The “business‐case” of this is partly to (i) avoid economic repercussions from not doing this, i.e. avoiding problems linked to dynamically escalating costs for unsustainable practices connected to resource flows, waste management, insurance, tax, un‐social behaviors, etc., (ii) exploit opportunities by being step‐wise more and more relevant as regards product‐ and service development in more and more sustainability‐driven markets, and (iii) to harvest PR benefits in‐house (e.g. higher productivity, loyalty, creativity, etc.) as well as in society at large (loyalty amongst general public, customers, politicians, etc. How can an organization approach such a goal while harvesting an improvement on bottom line business, rather than extra costs? This brings us to the third, strategic level.

III ‐ Strategic level: Strategic guidelines for achieving success

This level specifies logical guidelines of how to approach the objective strategically. This implies a step‐by‐step approach that ensures that economic resources continue to feed the process. In chess, good moves serve as strategic steps to checkmate. Trade‐offs—that is, sacrifice of pieces—are selected based on their capacity to serve as platforms towards achieving the goal of “checkmate” (level II) rather than as snap‐shot choices between inherent evils. For business, the strategic level describes the guidelines for planning and acting towards the objective (level II). The most basic guidelines are: (i) Evaluate each investment as regards its potential to serve as a platform for coming investments that are likely to bring the organization towards success as defined at level II. In doing so, strike a good balance between (ii) direction and advancement speed with respect to the sustainability principles and (iii) return on investment to sustain the transition process. Since resource‐ and opportunity costs will be dynamically higher and higher for competitors not doing it this way (see “business case” above), the strategic principles are designed to improve on bottom‐line business regardless what other business actors do in the system. As a company, you can harvest benefits from sustainable development even if you are alone doing it, which is the perfect position for an organization, exploiting enlightened self‐benefit while influencing others positively as a role model. This is also the ultimate starting point for an informed strategic dialogue between business and policy. There are many FSSD informed such dialogues, e.g., Electrolux asking for higher tax on household batteries containing Mercury and Lead to help speeding up their developments of less problematic batteries such as Lithium batteries, OK petroleum asking for higher tax on gasoline to speed up their developments of renewable fuels, and IKEA asking EU legislators to make the REACH program for regulation of chemicals more demanding on producers. It is easier to be a proactive politician in the presence of such FSSD informed leaders in business.

IV ‐ Actions level: Initiatives on several fronts

The fourth level explores concrete actions (in chess, the moves) and how these can be organized into step‐wise action programs (strategies) in line with the above strategic guidelines. The outcomes of actions are also continually reassessed as the development unfolds, for example, in chess when the situation is constantly and systematically reevaluated in relation to the goal of complying with the checkmate principles. Our case studies are presented at this level, e.g., for strategic changes in business by leaders and managers of companies such as Nike, Interface, Ikea, Electrolux (Robèrt, 1994, Nattrass, 1999, Broman et al., 2000, Everard et al., 2000). We have shown how Electrolux applied this framework to move out of CFC’s as well as polluting metals without turning to other inherently un‐sustainable coolants or metals, how Hydro Polymers was using the framework to gradually design sustainable PVC by bringing their whole value chain, and eventually the whole European PVC sector, onboard. And the framework has been applied by a growing number of municipalities (currently more than 200) across the world to solve problems without inventing new ones and to cooperate with business more efficiently in regions (Nattrass, 1999; Nattrass and Altomare, 2002; James and Lahti, 2004; Dublin City Report 2010; Einthoven 2011).

V ‐ Tools level: Aid for assessment, implementation and monitoring

The fifth level explores concepts, methods and tools by which actions (IV) can be analyzed, chosen, implemented and monitored so that these aid strategic progress (III) to arrive at success (II) in the system (I). Once the gap to sustainability is identified for an organization or project (see process description in next section), concepts, methods and tools are developed as answers to the following question: what does this overall plan, designed to bridge the current un‐sustainable situation with one that complies with sustainability principles in the future, need as regards concepts, methods and tools for facilitation and monitoring of the transition? In this way, the framework has been applied to derive concrete concepts, methods and tools for the individual organization’s sustainability analyses, visioning, planning, monitoring, modeling, simulation, product/service development, indicators, cross‐ sector cooperation and communications. And it has been used to determine how some of the most well‐known concepts, methods and tools, e.g., Ecological Footprinting, Factor 4 and 10, Life Cycle Assessments, management systems such as ISO 14001, eco‐design tools, planetary boundaries, company decision systems, etc., relate to sustainability and to each other (Robèrt, 2000; Robèrt et al., 2002; Byggeth and Hochschorner, 2006; Ny et al., 2006; Hallstedt et al., 2010; Bratt et al., 2011). The FSSD has also been applied to academic education (Broman et al., 2002, Waldron et al., 2004, Waldron, 2005, Robèrt et al., 2010, www.bth.se/sustainability).

The alliance will continue this work and fill a growing “toolbox” of concepts, methods and tools for the facilitation and monitoring of sustainable development, all aligned with full sustainability and with each other by use of the FSSD. And we will ensure to expand awareness and applicability and evaluation of the “toolbox”. The same framework that informs analyses, envisioning and planning in organizations and planning endeavors, is used to inform what is needed for the execution and monitoring of the plans.

For concrete analysis, envisioning and planning an “ABCD” procedure is followed, whereby top management teams, sustainability managers, product development teams, etc., from different sectors and organizations, at any scale, can:

A. Learn about the FSSD and envision a future situation complying with sustainability principles and explore the business case thereof,

B. Detect challenges and strengths of today’s situation in relation to goals integrated with the sustainability principles (gap‐analysis),

C. Brainstorm solutions and visions that comply with the sustainable goals or can be steps on the way, and

D. Produce strategic transition plans by prioritizing such measures from C that serve as a platform for coming investments that are likely to bring the organization towards compliance with sustainable goals, and in doing so, strike a good balance between direction and advancement speed with respect to the sustainability principles and return on investment to sustain the transition process.

We have collected case studies of best practices across the globe, applying the framework for concrete business planning and policy making in line with the above, during a twenty year interdisciplinary and cross‐sector learning dialogue. This has offered a growing arena to (i) test the theoretical input in real life situations, (ii) develop the underlying theories into operational concepts, methods and tools, and (iii) help to disseminate the framework across value chains and stakeholder groups of business and municipalities. See some more elaborate descriptions of cases in Appendix 2.

Coming research and implementation

The overall program is divided into two integrated and symbiotic parts.

Central program: The research is here focused on the further development the FSSD itself, including development of a more operational definition of social sustainability than we currently have in the FSSD. The research is here also focused on the FSSD’s user‐friendliness for interdisciplinary and cross‐sector cooperation for sustainability, including development of aligned generic methods and tools that can act as bridges to more specific and detailed methods and tools. At the heart of this program is also to learn how to create a growing community of researchers and practitioners, working more effectively across sectors and disciplines. The work in this program is dependent on feedback from the thematic projects and their respective applications of the FSSD.

Thematic projects: Linked to the central program we have a growing number of university‐ governed projects from all around the world, each employing the FSSD to help structuring their respective research projects in the context of a step‐wise approach to global sustainability. Using the FSSD in this way offers a unique potential for more effective cooperation between the scientists and with practitioners and thus offers a huge potential for a new type of research that is urgently needed at the global scale. The specific research in these thematic projects is not described here. Abstracts can be found in Appendix 3.

What we seek money for in this application is to (i) develop the FSSD further, specifically as regards a more operational definition of social sustainability, to (ii) improve the FSSD’s user‐ friendliness for interdisciplinary and cross‐sector cooperation for sustainability, specifically as regards aligned generic methods and tools that can act as bridges to more specific and detailed methods and tools, and to (iii) explore the knowledge management and the scientific/technical/financial/social potential of this unique way of cooperation. The latter requires a validated way of cross‐linking all the scientists and practitioners across the globe, so that the potential of employing one and the same unifying framework is fully exploited. So, overarching research questions of the central program are:

  1. How can sustainability be defined, and specifically, is it possible to define social sustainability in an as operational way as we have been able to do for ecological sustainability?
  2. How can strategies in companies, municipalities, regions, nations and international bodies and forums be guided to support fulfillment of such a definition, and specifically, is it possible to create a “toolbox” with self‐applicable bridging methods and tools for strategic sustainable development?
  3. How can effective cooperation for strategic sustainable development in the alliance be organized, and specifically, is it possible to create a virtual learning environment, and effective knowledge management, to allow for sharing of knowledge between

To effectively respond to those questions we need to develop the FSSD even more for effective cooperation across disciplines and sectors, develop aligned support methods and tools and shorten the lead times between scientific breakthroughs and real change in society. The design of the alliance, with independent universities and decision makers from different sectors of society, cooperating effectively by use of the unifying FSSD, is unique. It offers a potential to implement real change in society at a scale needed for global change. Our mission is to make the FSSD, with aligned support methods and tools and best practices, available to any decision maker with strategic ambitions.

The work is organized in three work packages, one for each of the overarching research questions. These work packages are described below. 


Work package 1 – A principled definition of sustainability

Background and aim

While the FSSD encompasses ecological as well as social sustainability, it has become increasingly clear that the two are not equally elaborated. In the FSSD, the overriding principle of maintaining the ecological system’s capacity to provide services to humanity has been further fleshed out into concrete and operational sustainability principles (SPs 1‐3), whereas the same is not true for the overriding principle of maintaining the social system’s capacity to provide services to humanity. This imbalance must be corrected so that the applicability of the framework can be exploited to its full potential. Creative solutions to sustainability problems in business and municipalities occur in the tension field between social and ecological sustainability, i.e. how can we move step‐wise to social sustainability within ecological sustainability constraints? To pursue this challenge and opportunity we need a well enough elaborated definition of both ecological and social sustainability. So far we have (i) outlined the gaps of the FSSD with regard to social sustainability to provide a platform for these further studies (Missimer et al. 2010) and (ii) derived a first new candidate set of social sustainability principles (Missimer et al. 2012). The aim of this work is to elaborate these hypothetical principles further, i.e. test, adjust/supplement/refine them (iteratively) and finally validate them. We will also investigate whether such a more elaborated and refined definition of social sustainability can be integrated with existing support methods and tools for innovation in business and society, and in that case outline how, or whether it requires adjusted and/or new support methods and tools, and in that case outline how to adjust and/or develop such support methods and tools.

Methods and activities

The candidate set of new principles for social sustainability will be tested through further cross‐reading of literature on social systems and social sustainability and in modeling sessions (including social scientists) as well as through field testing in action research with partners in business and society. The main steps are summarized and preliminary scheduled in table 1. We initially plan for a three‐year project. In supplement to continuously ongoing contacts, we will have two formal major workshops per year where ideas are shared, advances are reported and the project work is summarized and evaluated. We will also have one open seminar each year where other researchers and networking bodies can learn about the work and our results. We will also do formal reporting and scientific publication through relevant journals and conferences.

Table 1. Schedule for work package 1.

Researchers and budget

Participating researchers from BTH are Professor Göran Broman, Professor Karl‐Henrik Robèrt and PhD Student Merlina Missimer. We also have access to Professor Bo Rothstein from Gothenburg University and aim to recruit Dr. Dorothea Seebode from the University of Aachen to become a part time researcher at BTH. We also aim to recruit another PhD Student after a year. For CVs, see Appendix 4.

Estimated average activity levels (percentage of a full time position) for the various capacities are:

 

 

 

Estimated costs for the first three years are:

 

 

 

 

This includes over head costs, i.e. coverage for library, IT‐support, etc.


Work  package 2 – A “toolbox” for SSD

Background and aim

To be successful, a company, municipality or region must be able to anticipate and respond intelligently to changes in policies, customer demands and preferences, legislation, etc., as well as in innovation practices. Basic understanding of underlying drivers of change and competent utilization of advanced information technology tools enable pro‐activity in the development and production of new and innovative products and services. The increasing global awareness of the current unsustainable development of society is rapidly becoming a prominent driver of change. Global product and service development in itself also creates a drive towards closer cooperation in value‐chains, extended responsibilities and cross‐sector cooperation, system solutions and increased importance of service components as differentiators. To meet these shifts, companies, municipalities and regional bodies need new operational and strategic methods and tools. The aim of this work is to provide leaders, regional developers, city developers, business developers, product developers and other decision makers with effective decision support to address strategic sustainability issues, thereby facilitating sustainable innovation in business and society. This breaks down into the following more specific aims:

  • Explore the current state of art and state of practice regarding support methods and tools for sustainable innovation and decision support.
  • Supplement, adjust and develop new such methods and tools.
  • Validate these supplemented/adjusted/new methods and tools through test cases together with partners in business and society.
  • Integrate the supplemented/adjusted/new methods and tools into an easy accessible and user‐friendly “portal”/“toolbox” having the FSSD as the overall “operation system”.

Methods and activities

The methods used include literature studies, interviews, workshops and case studies. The methodological base for building shared understanding, assessments, conceptual prototyping and modeling is multidisciplinary and draws inspiration from Design Research Methodology. The main steps are summarized and preliminary scheduled in table 2. We initially plan for a three‐year project. In supplement to continuously ongoing contacts, we will have two formal major workshops per year where ideas are shared, advances are reported and the project work is summarized and evaluated. We will also have one open seminar each year where other researchers and networking bodies can learn about the work and our results. We will also do formal reporting and scientific publication through relevant journals and conferences.

Table 2. Schedule for work package 2.

Researchers and budget

Participating researchers from BTH are Professor Göran Broman, Professor Karl‐Henrik Robèrt, Professor Tobias Larsson, Dr. Sophie Hallstedt, Dr. Henrik Ny, Lic./Dr. Anthony Thompson, PhD Student Cesar‐Levy Franca and PhD Student Massimo Panarotto. We also aim to recruit Professor George Basile from Arizona State University to become a part time researcher at BTH. We also aim to recruit another PhD Student after a year. For CVs, see Appendix 4.

Estimated average activity levels (percentage of a full time position) for the various capacities are:

 

 

 

Estimated costs for the first three years are:

 

 

 

 

This includes over head costs, i.e. coverage for library, IT‐support, etc.


Work package  3 – A virtual learning environment

Background and aim

In order to be as lean, efficient and effective as possible within the alliance it is important to address both how the alliance research is being disseminated to the external audience, and also how we work internally to make sure the alliance is making best use of the resources. Hence, the alliance will strike a note on doing proper “knowledge management” both externally and internally and use the same efficient methods and tools that are being used for external knowledge sharing, for the internal knowledge sharing in the alliance. To make most of this, and see how far we can push efficiency by combining our shared mental model (FSSD) with modern methods developed within the field of Product Service Systems (PSS), and with modern IT, we are going to make this aspect of the research alliance a research topic in itself. In the initial startup of the alliance it is important to define how the alliance identify, develop, store, share, and put to use the knowledge that is created via the affiliated thematic research projects. We propose a knowledge management task for the external dissemination (described below) and that the task also clarifies the specifics for the internal knowledge sharing to ensure an efficient coordination and internal knowledge sharing task.

Methods and activities

A Key challenge for the research alliance is to extend the dissemination cycle so that it, besides from promoting awareness of sustainability issues, also brings about actual changes in practice. To reach this goal, it is necessary to combine an often too one‐sided approach to knowledge transfer, with innovative “dissemination vehicles” that can deliver the right content, to the right person, in the right context. This means, e.g., that we need to devise methods and tools that combine content and context in an appealing “package” that allows users to quickly move from awareness to action (i.e. understanding the benefits of a new method or tool and bringing it to use.) This transformation, from accessing information to actually utilizing it, is an often neglected aspect of science. The result is that it takes far too much time and effort today to translate scientific innovations into practice. Tools and concepts unnecessarily packaged in overly scientific formats is one of the main reasons why it is so difficult to introduce new methods and tools in live business and societal projects. Today, changing practice requires serious investments in time and money, and there is an enormous potential in reducing cost and lead‐time for diffusion of sustainable development methods and tools, and in making that diffusion less dependent on people‐to‐people or paper‐based knowledge transfer. The approach within the alliance fundamentally addresses “time‐to‐utilization” and “cost‐for‐utilization” in that it strongly focuses on reducing the overhead that most current knowledge management (KM) approaches impose on individuals, groups and organizations. Also, the work explicitly addresses “benefit‐from‐ utilization” in that it relates the utilization effort to the perceived and measured benefits from using the new sustainability methods and tools. Thus, the alliance aims to radically improve the possibilities for industry companies to rapidly assess the applicability of new sustainability approaches and solutions and to rapidly implement applicable solutions in their own “projects”. In summary, the coordination, training and dissemination task of the alliance starts from the following general questions that will drive the work:

  1. How can the self‐benefit of sustainable development (i.e. what is “in it” for the individual, for the company, and for the society at large) be communicated to become mainstream knowledge?
  2. What is the desired state of sustainability methods and approaches tools in industry/business and society in practice (i.e. envisioned usefulness)?
  3. How can the alliance help business and society adopt the results from the research (i.e. promoting the benefits of the alliance research in sustainability)?

The results of the alliance are, for the most part, described in scientific terms, and although we are constantly struggling to describe the work in commonly accepted and understood terms, we are aware of the fact that those who have most to benefit from our results are not likely to read our reports, and even if they actually do read them, it is probably difficult to relate our research findings to their everyday practice. With this in mind, we are facing the task to identify key messages, results and arguments, and to communicate these at different levels of abstraction to suit the contexts, understandings, and expectations of different user groups.

The above approach has been successfully deployed in several international research projects whereof the VIVACE project within European Aerospace (M70€ EU FP7 integrated project) is a recently concluded example where web casts, glossaries, video walkthroughs, use cases, case reports, dissemination cards, etc have been used for both external and internal knowledge sharing and dissemination.

The main steps are summarized and preliminary scheduled in table 3.

Table 3. Schedule for work package 3

Researchers and budget

Participating researchers from BTH are Professor Göran Broman and Professor Tobias Larsson, Dr. Henrik Ny and Lic./Dr. Anthony Thompson. Advisors Kristoffer Lundholm, Richard Blume and Jonas Oldmark from the Natural Step will also take part in this work. For CVs, see Appendix 4.

Estimated average activity levels (percentage of a full time position) for the various capacities are:

 

 

 

Estimated costs for the first three years are:

 

 

 

 

This includes over head costs, i.e. coverage for library, IT‐support, etc. Other costs here include arrangement of a yearly conference.

Institutional structure

The institutional structure and the administration of the alliance will be developed during the first years of its existence, mainly according to the description of work package 3. We here present an initial structure:

One of the universities is appointed responsible for coordination. In that university there is a small team dedicated to coordinating development of effective cooperation modes, knowledge management, incubation, outreach, IT support, etc. This team is managed by a program director. The director answers to a steering group consisting of a few representatives of the participating universities. The steering group meets once a month (virtually). The steering group is elected by and reports to a general assembly that consists of all participating universities/researchers. The general assembly meets once a year in conjunction with a conference/forum that is arranged by the coordinating university as a part of the knowledge sharing and planning of continued work in the alliance. The structure is illustrated in figure 2.

Figure 2. Institutional structure.

The founding partners are:

  • Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden: Göran Broman, Tobias Larsson, Karl‐ Henrik Robèrt.
  • Carnegie Melon University, USA: Terry Collins.
  • Sheridan College, Canada: Elaine Hanson.
  • Arizona State University, USA: George Basile.
  • Berkeley University, USA: Bernard Lietaer.These people are likely to initially be part of the management team and the steering group. The founding partners all represent (i) advanced competences within their respective thematic fields of science, (ii) a deeply rooted experience in that there is a great need for more powerful frameworks and arenas that would allow for more effective inter‐disciplinary and cross‐sector cooperation, and (iii) a deep understanding of the FSSD and its potential to come to grips with (ii).

Appendices

The four below appendices are available in: Application & Appendices – Research Alliance – 2012-03-26

Appendix 1 – Bibliography

Appendix 2 – Some previous cases and endorsements

Appendix 3 – Adjunct thematic projects

Appendix 4 – CVs of key persons