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ENVS504: Society, Economy, and the Environment

Unit 9: Systems Thinking: Understanding Sustainability   This unit focuses on material from the Open University’s “Systems Thinking: Understanding Sustainability”course.  The short readings and activities in the unit are an excellent primer on sustainability and sustainable development (and the difference between the two).  Both are inherently interdisciplinary topics, where interactions between social, environmental, and economic dimensions can complicate understanding system problems and finding solutions to them.  So far in this course, we have addressed single systems (e.g., energy, food, etc.), but the ways in which these systems interact in multiple dimensions is more clearly addressed here.

Unit 9 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 18.75 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 9.1: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 9.2: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 9.3: 0.75 hours

☐    Subunit 9.4: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 9.5: 3.75 hours

☐    Subunit 9.6: 0.25 hours

☐    Subunit 9.7: 1.75 hours

☐    Subunit 9.8: 1.5 hours

☐    Subunit 9.9: 0.75 hours

☐    Subunit 9.10: 1.75 hours

☐    Subunit 9.11: 1.75 hours

☐    Subunit 9.12: 2.5 hours

Unit9 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - Define and discuss terminology such as sustainability, sustainable development, and stakeholder. - Explain the Ecological Footprint index and how per capita and total resource consumption can be measured with it. - Explain the I=PAT equation. - Relate individual values, beliefs, and experience to individual action in the domain of sustainable development. - Interpret and analyze accounts of sustainable development issues and situations. - Identify important social, environmental, and economic systems and interactions between systems that affect sustainable development. - Construct and use hierarchies to explain impediments to sustainable development. - Classify values, beliefs, and circumstances in terms of their roles in sustainability and sustainable development issues. - Identify groups of stakeholders, and identify which groups he or she might belong to in a given sustainable development situation.

9.1 Sustainability and Equity Concepts and Measures   9.1.1 I=PAT   - Reading: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 1: Introduction to Sustainability: Humanity and the Environment” Link: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 1: Introduction to Sustainability: Humanity and the Environment” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read Chapter 1 for
a review of the three areas of sustainability (economy, society, and
environment), a definition of sustainable development, and an
explanation of the I = PAT formula.  

 Reading this chapter and taking notes should take approximately 30
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.1.2 Life Cycle Assessment   - Reading: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 9: Problem-Solving, Metrics, and Tools for Sustainability” Link: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 9: Problem-Solving, Metrics, and Tools for Sustainability” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read sections 9.1
and 9.2 (pages 423–438) for a discussion of why measuring
sustainability (and progress towards it) is necessary.  These
sections also provide a review of Life Cycle Assessment (from
Industrial Ecology) as one approach to assessing sustainable
choices.  

 Reading these sections and taking notes should take approximately
45 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.1.3 Footprints (Ecological, Carbon, Water)   - Reading: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 9: Problem-Solving, Metrics, and Tools for Sustainability” Link: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 9: Problem-Solving, Metrics, and Tools for Sustainability” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read section 9.3.2
(pages 450–464) for a discussion of the different kinds of
footprints that can be measured for products, companies, other
organizations, and countries.  

 Reading this section and taking notes should take approximately 45
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.2 Culture and Sustainability   - Reading: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 10: Sustainability: Ethics, Culture, and History” Link: University of Illinois: Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (eds.)’s Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation: “Chapter 10: Sustainability: Ethics, Culture, and History” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read Chapter 10
(pages 490-523) to learn how a society’s perception of the
environment and its utility for the production of cultural and
economic products influences the degree to which the society can
recognize and respond to environmental degradation.  The chapter
provides two examples (honey bee colony collapse and the massive
2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico) to demonstrate these concepts
and processes.  

 Reading this chapter and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.3 Exploring Your Understanding of Sustainable Development   - Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Exploring Your Understanding of Sustainable Development” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Exploring Your Understanding of Sustainable Development” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the introductory
paragraph, and then proceed through the two activities below it.
 This first activity will get you thinking about what your
preconceived notions are regarding sustainability and sustainable
development.  After you progress through the entire course, you may
want to look back at your writings in these two activities and think
about how you might have responded differently.  You can share how
your way of thinking has changed about sustainability and
sustainable development with other students on the Saylor
Foundation’s [discussion forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading, taking notes, and completing the activities should take
approximately 45 minutes to complete.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.4 Searching for “System” in Sustainable Development Situations   - Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Searching for ‘System’ in Sustainable Development Situations” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Searching for ‘System’ in Sustainable Development Situations” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the webpage, and
complete the activities.  This webpage will help you think about
social hierarchies (and your place in them) and how sustainability
issues are addressed at each level.  You can share your thoughts
about hierarchies with other students by posting on the Saylor
Foundation’s [discussion forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading, taking notes, and completing activity tasks should take
approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.5 Contextualizing Sustainable Development in Terms of Historical Events   - Reading: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Chapter 3: Contextualizing Sustainable Development in Terms of Historical Events” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Chapter 3: Contextualizing Sustainable Development in Terms of Historical Events” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this
introductory webpage that provides an overview of topics that will
be addressed in the sub-subunits below.  

 Reading this chapter should take approximately 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.5.1 Predictions   - Reading: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Predictions” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Predictions” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this webpage,
which is about the history and utility of predictions, particularly
when they relate to catastrophes and societal collapse.  

 Reading this webpage and taking notes should take approximately 15
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.5.2 Linking Environment and Development   - Reading: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman and Ray Ison’s “Linking Environment and Development” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman and Ray Ison’s “Linking Environment and Development” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read the text
about the “North/South” divide and its importance for understanding
sustainable development efforts and policy.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.5.3 The Brundtland Report   - Reading: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “The Brundtland Report” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “The Brundtland Report” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this webpage,
which discusses the Brundtland report.  This commission’s following
definition of sustainable development has become the most
commonly-used definition and is often used to gauge the
sustainability of policy and management decisions: “Sustainable
development is development that meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their
own needs.”  

 Reading this webpage and taking notes should take approximately 15
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.5.4 The United Nations Summits and Commission for Sustainable Development   - Reading: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “The United Nations Summits and Commission for Sustainable Development” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “The United Nations Summits and Commission for Sustainable Development” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this webpage,
which reviews “Agenda 21,” a plan for improving social,
environmental, and economic conditions around the world that was
endorsed by all countries participating in the 1992 United Nations
“Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro.  

 Reading this webpage and taking notes should take approximately 15
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.5.5 Increasing Globalization   - Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Increasing Globalization” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Increasing Globalization” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this webpage,
which provides a brief discussion of the meaning of “globalization”
and a few activities for this material and the material in previous
subunits.  These activities would be excellent topics to share with
other students on the Saylor Foundation’s [discussion
forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading, taking notes, and completing the activities will take
approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.6 Sustainable Development and Sustainability   - Reading: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Sustainable Development and Sustainability” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Sustainable Development and Sustainability” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this webpage,
which describes sustainable development as the intersection of
ecological, social, and economic concerns, and this perspective will
be used through the rest of the course.  

 Reading this webpage and taking notes should take approximately 15
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.7 Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances   - Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the webpage, and
complete the activity.  This unit focuses on classifications of
values and beliefs as well as how values and beliefs inform our
perspective regarding circumstances (in the context of sustainable
development).  The activity would be good to share with other
students on the Saylor Foundation’s [discussion
forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading this webpage and completing the activity should take
approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Connections between Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Connections between Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the webpage, and complete the activity.  Here, you are encouraged to think about the connections between the subjects discussed in the previous unit.  The activity would be good to share with other students on the Saylor Foundation’s discussion forums.

    Reading this webpage and completing the activity should take approximately 45 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

9.8 Exploring Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances in Relation to a Sustainable Development Situation   - Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Exploring Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances in Relation to a Sustainable Development Situation” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Exploring Values, Beliefs, and Circumstances in Relation to a Sustainable Development Situation” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the webpage, and
complete the activity.  Here, you are asked to apply what you
learned in the previous unit about values and beliefs to a
particular situation, and reflect upon its importance to sustainable
development.  The reflection activity would be good to share with
other students on the Saylor Foundation’s [discussion
forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading, taking notes, and completing the activity should take
approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.9 Issues of Stakeholding   - Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Issues of Stakeholding” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Issues of Stakeholding” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the webpage, and
complete the activity.  The webpage describes the meaning of
“stakeholder” and how the approach of categorizing people into
stakeholder groups influences sustainable development processes.
 The reflection activity would be good to share with other students
on the Saylor Foundation’s [discussion
forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading, taking notes, and completing the activity should take
approximately 45 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.10 Some Different Beliefs about Sustainable Development   - Reading: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Some Different Beliefs about Sustainable Development” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Some Different Beliefs about Sustainable Development” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the webpage, and
complete the activities.  The webpage examines different beliefs
that are held about sustainable development, some of which you may
or may not agree with.  The activities ask you to think about your
own beliefs regarding sustainable development as well as how you
might look at these beliefs and understand how they can advance or
impede progress towards sustainability.  The reflection activities
would be good to share with students on the Saylor Foundation’s
[discussion forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading, taking notes, and completing the activities should take
approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.11 Values and Sustainable Development   - Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Values and Sustainable Development” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Values and Sustainable Development” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the webpage, and
complete the activities.  The webpage describes the importance of
understanding how values and attitudes affect our discussions
surrounding sustainable development as well as what should be done
to achieve it.  The reflection activities would be good to share
with other students on the Saylor Foundation’s [discussion
forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading, taking notes, and completing the activities should take
approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

9.12 Congruence between Your Sustainable Development Values and Your Behavior?   - Activity: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Congruence between Your Sustainable Development Values and Your Behavior?” Link: The Open University: Chris Blackmore, Jake Chapman, and Ray Ison’s “Congruence between Your Sustainable Development Values and Your Behavior?” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link, read the webpage, and
complete the activities.  The webpage sets up the activities, all of
which ask you to reflect upon your own values and behavior and how
they inform your attitudes on sustainable development and your
likelihood of contributing towards sustainable development goals.
 Be sure to have your work from previous sections on hand, as the
activities in this section ask you to look back at what you have
written before.  The reflection activities would be good to share
with other students on the Saylor Foundation’s [discussion
forums](http://forums.saylor.org/).  

 Reading, taking notes, and completing the activities should take
approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.