Research Output

Towards 'Systemic Sustainability': Assessing the O.R. Contribution

  The emerging 'sustainability paradigm' presents challenges and opportunities for the next generation of leaders. However, Howieson, Burnes and Summers (2019) acknowledge that organisational leadership is based (generally) on a neoliberal paradigm and cite the United Nations (2015) Paris Agreement on Climate Change, recognition that this has contributed to an 'intolerable situation'. O.R. has a considerable role to play in understanding the complexity and interconnectedness between the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, that offer a blueprint of these challenges (i.e. poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice) and in seizing the abundance of opportunities (i.e, in growth areas such as mobility systems, healthcare, energy efficiency and clean energy solutions). This is perhaps part of the reason why the UN with, the WHO and the OECD in 2017, highlighted “systems thinking” as a key leadership skill. To reframe organisational leadership around a 'sustainability paradigm', we must move towards practising 'systemic sustainability'. Laszlo and Laszlo (2011) suggest that systemic sustainability is a process of development (individual, organisational, or societal) involving an adaptive strategy of emergence that ensures the evolutionary maintenance of an increasingly robust and supportive environment. This is apt within a 'Community O.R.' standpoint, concerned with the 'meaningful engagement of communities' (Midgley, Johnson and Chichirau, 2018). In this paper, we wish to assess the O.R. contribution and draw on these definitions/perspectives to consider (1) how to build capacity for “systems thinking” in individuals; (2) shifting organisational leadership to a 'sustainability paradigm' to include the crafting and demonstrating of 'purpose'; (3) building active relationships with multiple stakeholders who share values and wish to address common concerns; plus (4) the interdependence of business within multiple ecosystems. This requires boundary judgements, understanding of complex problem situations, mitigating conflict, drawing consensus on ways forward and co-creating solutions that lead to purposeful action.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    03 September 2019

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Innovate UK


Weaver, M., Tan, H., & Duddy, D. (2019, September). Towards 'Systemic Sustainability': Assessing the O.R. Contribution. Paper presented at Operational Research Society Annual Conference



sustainability; systems thinking; co-creation; systemic intervention; soft OR

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