Three Views of Systems Theories and their Implications for Sustainability Education

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Worldwide, there is an emerging interest in sustainability and sustainability education. A popular and promising approach is the use of systems thinking. However, the systems approach to sustainability has neither been clearly defined nor has its practical application followed any systematic rigor, resulting in confounded and underspecified recommendations. The purpose of this article is to extend the notion of systems thinking as it pertains to sustainability pedagogy. The authors draw from systems theory and other literatures to develop three broad approaches to systems thinking: functionalist, interpretive, and complex adaptive systems (CAS). Each perspective is examined regarding its conceptual underpinnings, implications for sustainability, and pedagogical goals, objectives, skills, and exemplar projects and activities. The authors' goal is to provide the reader with an immanently practical set of ideas and pedagogical tools that may be readily adopted by management educators in any discipline
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-347
JournalJournal of Management Education
Issue number3
Early online date3 Dec 2008
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2009


  • sustainability
  • complexity
  • systems thinking
  • education
  • Corporate Social Responsibility

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