Global System Change: A Whole System Approach To Achieving Sustainability and Real Prosperity

Global System Change: A Whole System Approach
To Achieving Sustainability and Real Prosperity

Frank Dixon
July 13, 2017

Stepping back and looking at the big picture or whole system facilitates evolving human society into a sustainable form. A whole system perspective helps to put modern economic and political systems into a historical context. During the times of feudalism, slavery and other unjust, unsustainable systems, many people probably thought these systems were sophisticated and beneficial. Experts often addressed problems by making incremental adjustments. But a whole system perspective shows that the optimal solution was not to fix these systems. It was to replace them with sustainable, fair ones.

This perspective also shows that we largely are suffering from the same myopia or failure to see the whole system today. Many people believe that modern economic and political systems are sophisticated and beneficial. They are compared to some past human systems. However, based on the scale of negative impacts, they also are the most destructive in human history. Every life support system is in rapid decline, with some regional exceptions. And there is widespread poverty, hunger, suffering, inequality, unemployment, political instability and other major problems in human society.

Modern economic and political systems were developed from a reductionistic perspective that ignores much of reality. As a result, these well-meaning, but inherently flawed systems drive vast environmental and social degradation. They compel all companies, without exception, to degrade the environment and society. If businesses attempted to voluntarily mitigate all of their negative environmental and social impacts, they would put themselves out of business long before reaching full impact mitigation.

These myopic systems grossly violate the laws of nature and reality. A whole system perspective shows that they inevitably will change. As in earlier times, system change can seem difficult or impossible. People’s survival and comfort frequently depend on current organizations and systems. Vested interests that benefit from current systems often fight aggressively to maintain them. This resistance frequently delays large-scale system change. As degradation mounts under flawed systems, system collapse can happen very quickly, as occurred with the American and French revolutions, end of slavery in the US and fall of communism in the Soviet Union.

Nature and reality force all flawed systems to change. Ultimately, it does not matter if vested interests and average citizens resist system change. It will happen one way or another. Not changing is not an option. Our only options are voluntary or involuntary change (i.e. collapse). Collapse of modern systems would cause unprecedented suffering due to the size and interconnected nature of modern society and the many environmental and social thresholds we are near or past. By far, our best option is voluntary system change. A whole system perspective helps vested interests to see that they are much better off collaborating and managing the system change process, rather than suffering the consequences of system collapse.

A whole system perspective also helps people to envision a sustainable human society. The model is all around us in nature. Nature displays nearly infinitely greater sophistication, coordination and implied intelligence than humanity. Nature produces no waste, lives on renewable resources, decentralizes production, equally values current and future generations, equitably distributes resources, enables nearly all individuals to reach their fullest potential, and achieves long-term sustainability and real prosperity. We are parts of nature. A whole system perspective shows that we only have reached the tiniest fraction of our potential. We can be nearly infinitely more sophisticated, coordinated and truly prosperous than we are now.

A whole system approach is essential for successfully planning and managing the transition to sustainable human society. Academic and other leaders have developed many excellent system theories and system change approaches. These often are applied to specific issues, such as climate change, economic reform and food production. The efforts sometimes have limited success and unintended consequences because they do not adequately address the whole system. In the interconnected human society, root causes and most effective solutions often lie outside the issue-specific area.

To illustrate, important actions needed to resolve climate change include raising public awareness and evolving economic and political systems in ways that hold companies fully responsible for negative impacts. Beyond climate change, these actions will help to substantially resolve many other environmental and social issues. A whole system approach is far more efficient and effective than trying to resolve major problems through separate, uncoordinated efforts.

This type of approach is described in the new book Global System Change: A Whole System Approach to Achieving Sustainability and Real Prosperity. The book describes how to practically evolve the current unsustainable human society into a sustainable form. Using a whole system approach, Global System Change addresses and integrates all major aspects of human society, including economic, political, social, environmental, psychological, spiritual and religious. It thoroughly discusses root causes of major problems, barriers to system change, key system change leverage points and important collaboration participants. The book identifies major sector-level and overarching economic, political and social system changes needed to achieve sustainability and real prosperity.

As part of a whole system approach, many simultaneous actions are needed. Two of the most important are promoting system change in the corporate and financial sectors and establishing true democracy. These are thoroughly discussed in the summary book Global System Change: We the People Achieving True Democracy, Sustainable Economy and Total Corporate Responsibility.

Flawed economic and political systems make it impossible for companies to eliminate about 80 percent of negative environmental and social impacts. As the human economy expands in the finite Earth system, these systemically mandated impacts increasingly return to harm businesses, often in the form of market rejection, lawsuits, weakened competitive position, and reduced profitability and shareholder returns. Companies have strong incentives to evolve systems in ways that protect business and society. Global System Change: We the People describes a practical and profitable approach for engaging the corporate and financial sectors in system change, called Total Corporate Responsibility.

Establishing true democracy is essential for achieving sustainability and real prosperity. All ultimate power resides with the people (citizens collectively). In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned that vested interests would use political parties to divide and disempower the people. The political party-fostered civil war between conservatives and liberals prevents citizens from gaining the majorities needed to take back control of government from vested interests. Global System Change: We the People describes how to unite citizens under a We the People movement, establish true democracy, use the public wealth to equally and fairly benefit all citizens, and maximize the long-term well-being of society.

Prior to the fall of slavery, feudalism and other unjust systems, many people could not see that these systems were about to change. The same is true today. Society seems to be getting worse. Division and hatred are growing. Life support systems are declining. Wealth is being concentrated at the top of society in many developed and developing countries, while life becomes more difficult for the vast majority of citizens. Darkness and degradation often precede major systemic change.

A whole system perspective shows that our flawed, unjust, destructive systems are about the change. Voluntarily evolving these systems into sustainable forms before they collapse is the most complex challenge ever faced by humanity. Thinking and acting from a whole system perspective is essential for overcoming this challenge. Stepping back and looking at the big picture shows that we have the innate ability to voluntarily change our systems, abide by the laws of nature and achieve a truly prosperous society.


Frank Dixon oversaw the sustainability analysis and rating of the world’s 2,000 largest companies for many years as the Managing Director of Research at Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, formerly the largest corporate sustainability research firm in the world. Institutional investors used Innovest research to develop high-performing socially responsible investing products. Extensive corporate sustainability experience made it clear that flawed systems compel all companies to degrade the environment and society. Frank Dixon developed the TCR® approach to provide a practical and profitable way for companies and investors to engage in system change. Following Innovest, he provided sustainability and system change consulting to companies in the US and Europe. Most recently, he wrote the Global System Change series of books. Using a whole system approach, the books describe the major economic, political and social system changes needed to achieve sustainability and real prosperity.

Frank Dixon has an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

Copyright © 2017 Frank Dixon