Sustainability Science

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 1225–1234 | Cite as

Systemic design for sustainability

  • Markus Schwaninger
Special Feature: Original Article People, Technology and Governance for Sustainability: The Contribution of Systems and Cyber-systemic Thinking
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Feature: People, Technology and Governance for Sustainability: The Contribution of Systems and Cyber-systemic Thinking


How can we restore the ecological balance of our planet? The present article is aimed at contributing a structural framework for such a restoration. In the quest for ecological recovery, cybernetic–systemic approaches are in demand. They specialize in coping with complexity and offer new, transdisciplinary and non-reductionist ways of system design for renewing sustainability. This contribution uses a proven model from organizational cybernetics—the viable system model—as a frame for sustainable development. The model specifies how the viability of any human or social system can be achieved by means of clearly defined organizational structures. In accord with the logic of recursive organization inherent in the model, a proposal for a structural design aimed at enabling ecological recovery is formulated. That design includes all organizational levels of recursion, from individual to world. The implications of such a novel approach are far-reaching, and the impact powerful.


Sustainability Ecological balance Organizational cybernetics Systems design Organization Transdisciplinarity Recursive structure Cyber-systemic thinking 



The author is grateful to multiple executives from companies for their patience in responding to my questions. He wishes to thank in particular Dr. Felix Gress, Senior Vice President Communications and Public Affairs, the Continental Corporation, for providing insights into the structures and history of his organization. Many thanks to three anonymous reviewers who provided valuable comments. A token of special gratitude goes to Prof. Marialuisa Saviano and Dr. John Peck for their editorial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of St. GallenSt. GallenSwitzerland

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