A System's Approach to Sustainable Development

What we do makes other lives better or worse. If we don’t think about what we do, and why, how will we ever change?

Check out "Practice of Sustainable Community Development" a new book published by R. Warren Flint of Five E's Unlimited





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What is Sustainable Development?

I cannot count the number of times in my sustainable development work when I have gone rummaging through file cabinets looking for specific information regarding a particular fact about sustainability. Out of frustration, I finally decided to try and put all in one place the many different details I have accumulated through the last decade on this topic.

That is the reason for this Manifesto. It represents what I have discovered through my own work as well as what I have learned from the cutting edge work of others on sustainable development – exploring its meaning and getting inside its application. This writing is an effort to synthesize and integrate significant amounts of detail and many ideas that exist on different elements of the global sustainability picture. And because I have often been asked to put forward a "definition" for sustainability, as part of my effort to synthesize my knowledge and that of others I have also developed a brief statement of a simple & integrated perspective on sustainability that accomplishes a better job of beginning discussions on the topic than to actually put forth a "definition" which immediately tempts debate and is always open to different points of view.

After developing a simple and integrated perspective on sustainability that any person could understand and relate to, it became apparent to me that many people often relate to things better when they are expressed in a pictorial format. The idea of sustainability permeates the global society. It is a dynamic process which enables all people to realize their potential, meet their needs, and improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance our Earth's life-support systems. Sustainability planning and action represents a multi dimensional way - which we often have difficulty in visualizing through the normal human perspective - to achieve recovery and improve the quality of life for everyone. Besides the expression of intent of a community or corporation to become more sustainable, there needs to be development of a mindset that will really embrace the systemic approach that successful outcomes in sustainability plans and actions demand. A diagrammatic model or picture that illustrates the concept of sustainability can offer people a way of understanding the process of sustainable development naturally, automatically, and without conscious thought by developing a second nature to the way we think about and do things. The acceptance and continual use of a visual tool, a conceptual framework, symbols describing what we are trying to consider as a constant reminder, helps us apply systemic thinking and action throughout the analysis of problems and solutions toward sustainable design processes. A holistic approach, better informed by sustainability symbolism, is crucial to developing new methods of analysis and decision-making. In order to convey this idea I published a paper recently entitled "Symbolism of Sustainability: Means of Operationalizing the Concept" that presents symbolism behind the concepts of sustainability that can help the reader in better referring to the systemic ways sustainable development can be presented and interpreted.

With this information presented in the 3 documents cited above I believe anyone can more effectively advance society’s collective wisdom for this concept and advocate for its important influence on the future design and implementation of development projects and programs that simultaneously impact society and the environment. The sequence of manuscript sections in the full Manifesto publication is significant because they represent a hierarchical development of background toward the expression of our understanding for this complex subject area in an almost crescendo-like, very simple interpretation of sustainability. Following this interpretation, with all the background information to support its rationale that even the general public can "put their arms around," I have provided several sections that focus upon sustainable development implementation, including tools to use and means of potential testing for sustainable outcomes. The reference section of the Manifesto publication, in and of itself, is a valuable document because it offers many of what I believe are the most recent systemic thoughts and comprehensive writings on the subject of sustainability.

Although some of the ideas are my own, I have also borrowed extensively from many different persons engaged in sustainable development teaching, research, and practice in order to identify the extent of our knowledge in calling attention to the significance of advocating for sustainability goals in the growing global society. I thank and congratulate all of those persons for their stimulating thinking on the subject.

Warren Flint, Ph.D.


The Manifesto's contents are listed below. The Manifest can be obtained by downloading it here.


The Manifesto also provides the foundational reading for group workshops or retreats Five E's Unlimited offers organizations or businesses interested in their members exploring the concept of sustainable development in depth.

Manifesto Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Is Our Global Society On-Track to a Healthy Future?
  • What is Required to Change Present Conditions?
  • Planting the Seed
  • Sustainability’s Triple Threat
  • Challenges to the Idea of Sustainability
  • A Conceptual Understanding for Sustainability Philosophy
  • Fundamental Truths
  • A World of Interconnections
  • A Simple Interpretation of Sustainability to Proceed
  • What Sustainability Is and Is Not!
  • Spirituality and Sustainability
  • Principles That Can Guide Sustainable Actions
  • Transitioning to Sustainability
  • A Practitioner’s Challenge in Sustainable Development
  • Tools to Consider in Sustainability Practice
  • Testing for Sustainability
  • References


"Practice of Sustainable Community Development" edited Author Galley Proofs.



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Last Update: 1/1/15
Web Author: Dr. R. Warren Flint