Systemic Vision and System Based Leadership

The process of creating a sustainable region implies breaking with the common reductionist approach and turning it into a highly inclusive and interdependent mechanism, with a systemic vision.

How did simple initiatives such as the electric bulb, the DC motor or the printing process become whole industries? A probable answer is that their inventors came up with more than a bulb, a motor, or a printing press; they designed their initiatives from the beginning with a systemic long-term vision of collaboration and sharing among all components of the value chain and, thus, became large impact industries.

For instance, with this systemic vision, we can transform linear recycling chains of PET bottles into a more valuable context, like inserting the bottles into the construction industry, where walls are built out of these bottles assembled in such a way that light concrete can be added, creating a highly isolated wall for the houses. This is the great breakthrough paradigm that can be used to transform a waste residue of the plastic industry, not into a recycled bottle, but rather into a sustainable housing construction system with great benefits for low-income inhabitants, mainly living in extreme high- or low- temperature regions, where isolated walls are required.

The construction of systemic solutions instead of creating product, service or process innovations, demonstrates that following a circular approach (Stahel, 2010) by transforming residues from some firms into nutrients for the processes of other firms is suitable for generating valuable increasing returns and, simultaneously, reducing the ecological footprint and regenerating the planet’s nutrients.

With these concepts in mind, a new ecological economy is not only a need, but also a viable possibility. The starting point must be to switch the perception of perpetual consumption growth as the only possible basis for stability, and to identify clearly the conditions to support a more valuable sustainable economy. These conditions should include a strong requirement for economic resilience and provide security for people’s livelihoods, ensure distributed equity, impose sustainable levels of resource throughput and protect the current scarce and depleted natural capital of some regions.

Examples of this systemic approach can be found in several successful cases, such as: the city of Kalundborg in Denmark (Ehrenfeld and Gertler, 1997; Jacobsen, 2006); the forest industry in Finland (Korhonen, 2001b); the pharmaceutical industry in the Barceloneta zone in Puerto Rico (Ashton, 2008; Chertow et al, 2008 ); several cases of transition towns in the UK (Amanda, 2011; Seytang and Hazeltine, 2012); and the reconstruction of arid lands in Las Gaviotas, Colombia (Pauli, 2010; Weisman, 2008), among others.

All of these few but remarkable cases demonstrate that regional models of growth must be redesigned from their origins to create a regenerative economy, and articulate “systemic circular value ecosystems”, capable of achieving exceptional economic, environmental and social benefits for the region's population.

  • References:
  • Scheel C. (2016) Innovación centrada en los sistemas. C. Scheel, R. Gomez-Tagle. La Innovación para un Mundo Sustentable. (pp. 88-99). México. Ed. Font. ISBN 978-607-501-442-5. Innovación para un desarrollo sustentable: Innovación disruptiva, sistémica y democrática para romper paradigmas (Spanish Edition)
  • Scheel, C., & Aguiñaga, E. (2015). A systemic approach to innovation: breaking the rules of conventional regional development: the cases of Mexico, Colombia, India and Brazil, edited by D. Trzmielak and D.V. Gibson, International Cases on Innovation, Knowledge and Technology Transfer(pp. 95-114). Łódź, Poland: Center for Technology Transfer UŁ. ISBN 978-83-922375-8-7