Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 1–17

Using critical systems thinking to foster an integrated approach to sustainability: a proposal for development practitioners



Throughout the development sector, there is increasing recognition of links between the environment and aspects of development such as poverty alleviation, health, income generation, and agriculture. While furnished with a diverse range of perspectives and approaches, development practice is in need of ways to better conceptualize the interactions between the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainability so that opportunities for simultaneous improvement in human and ecological well-being can be identified more readily. Critical systems thinking is proposed as a way for development practitioners to conceptualize and act toward the integration of these economic, social, and environmental dimensions and, in so doing, support communities to nurture both human and ecosystem well-being. Four desirable attributes of a critical systems thinking approach to development are identified based on development literature, critical systems literature, and the author’s research into sustainability in semi-rural communities in Vietnam. The four attributes are ‘a systems thinking approach;’ ‘an ethical base to action and choices;’ ‘critical reflection permeates processes;’ and ‘appreciation of diverse views and application of diverse approaches.’ These attributes are described and then offered as the basis for further discussion of the ways in which simultaneous improvement of human well-being and ecosystem health can become an integral part of development practice.


Critical systems thinking Ethics Integrated approaches Sustainability Development practice 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Sustainable FuturesUniversity of TechnologySydneyAustralia

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