• Sustainable Asset Management: The Case of Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), by Thomas Hall (Appendix H), describes how an academic institution is creating nine campuses of high-performance facilities.
  • The Economics of Sustainability: The Business Case That Makes Itself, by Greg Kats (Appendix I), presents evidence-based data from a new report, Greening Our Built World: Costs, Benefits, and Strategies (Kats, 2010).


The purpose of systems-based thinking is to find more efficient ways to use resources throughout their life cycle to deliver products and services. The following examples highlight collaborative processes for setting ambitious goals and learning how systems-based thinking is being used to achieve those goals. Tools to enable systems-based thinking, and technologies that are enabled by systems-based thinking are also discussed.

Examples of Collaborative Goal Setting

Greensburg, Kansas

Following the total destruction of their town by a tornado, the citizens of Greensburg, Kansas, used systems-based thinking as a basis for the town’s reconstruction as a sustainable community (Figure 4.1). They systematically reconsidered the local economy, lifestyle, how people choose to use their time, and their future (see Appendix D). They developed a vision for what they wanted to achieve and then developed specific goals related to community, family, prosperity, environment, affordability, growth, renewal, water, health, energy, wind, and the built environment. Commitment from the whole community was sought at each stage of redevelopment planning and reconstruction (i.e., developing objectives and goals, preliminary design, detailed design, commitment of funds, construction, and postoccupancy).

By using systems-based thinking, the new Greensburg master plan optimizes the use of available resources. For example, rainwater and stormwater are captured in the landscape and the streetscape, purified, used, and then repurified for reuse (Figure 4.2). The sources of other resources, such as energy, were also identified and systematically evaluated to find ways to eliminate waste, optimize their use, and to achieve multiple objectives.

The Oberlin Project

The Oberlin Project is one of 18 Clinton Climate Initiative’s climate positive projects. It grows out of Oberlin College’s own campus sustainability initiatives and has become a collaborative venture involving Oberlin College, the municipal government, including the city schools, local townships, the municipal power company, private-sector organizations, local churches and nongovernmental organizations, and a major foundation. To help provide direction for the project, an advisory committee has been established that includes some of the nation’s leading sustainability experts from architecture, urban design, renewable energy, and economic planning.

In contrast to Greensburg, Kansas, this project builds on an existing “town and gown” community. The goal is to transform Oberlin into a model of a post-fossil-fuel economy and sustainable development that can be widely emulated. Investments in building construction, renovation, and energy technology in a 13-block area of Oberlin’s downtown are intended to fulfill multiple broad objectives. The objec-

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement