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On the Precipice of Change

Scientists have been discussing systems change since the mid 1900’s, so why focus on it now? In February 2021, the number of individuals plugging “systems change” into Google was the highest it’s been since 2007. The Covid-19 pandemic brought to light the deep rooted societal, economic, governmental issues (as well as many other -al, -ic, and -ism issues). Not only have these problems come to light, but also how intertwined they are; the sobering realization that in order to change something, we might have to change everything.

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Systems Change Now

Many folks around the world are embracing the challenge of systems change. Personally, I’m excited to introduce you, readers, to some of the transformative methods, machinery, and mindsets poised to change the world. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a demonstration of what systems change can look like. To change the systems that have been in place for years, decades, or even centuries, we will need entirely new ways of not just solving problems, but identifying them in the first place.

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What is a Sustainable Market?

We use markets every day in our lives—they are places where buyers and sellers meet to exchange goods and services. A neighborhood farmers’ market is a market, as is Amazon or Alibaba. It is through that interaction between buyers and sellers that prices are determined for goods and services which, in turn, impacts the forces of supply and demand. While we most often come in touch with the endpoint of a market (the grocery store or a shopping mall), supply and demand are what drives how goods and services are invented, made, priced, and mass-produced throughout the world.

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Why Can’t We Scale Sustainable Markets?

In a recent episode of her podcast, Supply Chain Revolution, Sheri Hinish asked the critical question about all the innovation taking place around markets for sustainable products: “Why aren’t these ideas scaling?” Yet here we are in 2021 – still not adopting markets that offer a clearly superior alternative. Even worse, all of us remain dependent on every one of those inherently unsustainable products to live our lives. We may own a Tesla and have solar panels on our roof but we continue buying cotton t-shirts, shipped to us by Amazon in carboard packages that are delivered by fossil fuel-powered ships, jets, trains, and trucks. I, for one, am guilty as charged.

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Achieving Systems Change

Systems change is a fundamental shift in the entire production chain away from one that is unsustainable to one that is sustainable. It is a move away from short-termism, rampant consumption, and a devaluation of human capital to a long-term approach characterized by investments in our future (such as education and health care), finding a balance between socio-economic growth and resource consumption, and creating value across society so all people have a chance to live a better life.

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The History of Systems Change and Thinking

How can we create systems change? “Systems change requires systems thinking” as Building Impact states. This, in turn, requires systems theory. None of which mean much at all unless we can figure out how to agree on the definition of a system. There are many complex and word-heavy definitions, but at its core: a system is a framework of independent, but interconnected parts that work together toward a goal or process via distinct relationships and reactions.

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Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is the process of  understanding how elements (parts)  influence one another within a whole. In  nature, systems thinking examples include  ecosystems in which various elements  such as air, water, movement, plants, and  animals work together to survive or perish.  In organizations, systems consist of  people, structures, and processes that  work together to make an organization  healthy or unhealthy.

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