Applications of Systems Thinking within the Sustainability Domain Product Design, Product Systems and Stakeholder Perspectives

Detta är en avhandling från Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Sammanfattning: Many of the sustainability challenges our society currently face have arisen as unanticipated side effects of our own modern developments. This thesis investigates if unintended consequences and perspectives are fully addressed by traditional methods for providing decision-making support within the sustainability domain. For that purpose, Systems Thinking is utilised in three cases: in the first, Systems Thinking is used to analyse sustainability issues relating to the current product design paradigm. In the second case, Systems Thinking is applied to two product systems – household washing machines and conventional passenger vehicles. The third case discusses different stakeholder perspectives in environmental decision-making and proposes a way to combine the ESA tools LCA, LCC and CBA in order to consider the different stakeholder perspectives. Results of the first case point out that the practices within the current design paradigm are focused on innovations and improvements in material and energy efficiency. These practices have led to the following unintended consequences: consumption rebound effects, increased waste, pollution, negative externalities, economic inequalities and other environmental and social negative impacts. These unintended consequences are represented in a Causal Loop Diagram (CLD). The diagram graphically illustrates how these unintended consequences influence one another and interact by means of cause-effect linkages and reinforcing feedback loops. A novel conceptual framework named Sustainability-Driven Systems-Oriented Design is proposed to work within broader system boundaries in order to address possible negative side effects that micro-level gains could have on macro-level losses. In the case of the two product systems, a CLD for household washing machines and conventional passenger vehicles is developed. The CLDs represent how selected variables interact by means of cause-effect associations to affect environmental impacts of the products. The CLD technique appears to be a useful way to connect quantitative assessment (from Life Cycle Assessment) with qualitative analysis (from Systems Thinking). In the third case it is argued that stakeholders tend to adopt different system boundaries and make assumptions according to their perspective when they use ESA tools in environmental decision-making. A way to combine ESA tools is suggested to facilitate the observation of the environmental decision from different viewpoints. It concludes, to some extent, that traditional methods for providing decision-making support can handle certain parameters that may result in unintended consequences. Systems Thinking may assist in the process of performing qualitative analyses of what is important to consider in order to strengthen the robustness of, and improve on the recommended actions from, quantitative detailed analyses.