Creative Sustainability | Except Integrated Sustainability

Except Integrated Sustainability
4 min readJan 20, 2021

Creativity is not limited to the humanities and the arts, but can be involved in anything. Before anything else, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves what creativity and being creative really means. Defining creativity has been much debated in scholarly research and depending on who you believe there may not be a definite meaning at all — but generally, we can understand creativity to mean using our imagination to make or think of something new.

There are many different ways to stimulate creativity: brainstorming, making vision boards, mind mapping, word association…

Usually, these exercises are used for object-related problem solving, meaning our creative efforts are directed to one ‘thing’ or problem. This approach may be more or less successful depending on your subject field, but in the case of sustainability the results are often disappointing. Though well-intentioned, when it comes to sustainable challenges object-related problem solving rarely improves the root of the problem. Most of the time, it shifts the negative impact on one area to another. For example, a product is made eco-friendly, but under horrid working conditions — or a company manages to save energy, but pollutes the environment in the process.

Except created Symbiosis in Development (SiD) as a way to guide their creative process and to avoid becoming so focused on improving one thing they forget about the rest. SiD works with systems thinking, which means that instead of only looking for solutions for a single problem, we examine the entire system. What happens system-wise that causes these problems? How do different processes within this system impact and interact with each other? What happens when we change things?

The different systems of SiD that make up the whole. Download the (free) SiD book at for more information.

SiD may work with systems, but that doesn’t mean it ignores the objects. It simply means that SiD systems are categorized in different levels. The first of these is, in fact, the object level, which includes physical assets like cars, trees, and people. Next is the network level where we can see how our objects function within and between economic, cultural and environmental relations. Lastly, the third level combines everything from the previous two, showing the system as a whole.

Knowing about lots of different things from different fields and then bringing them together is what creativity is really all about; we literally create something new by putting together different things. Knowledge and familiarity with a broad range of subjects will make being creative a lot easier, simply because there are more things to choose from and think of. Creativity flourishes in diversity. Moreover, you’re more likely to come up with something that hasn’t been thought of before, because you’re not limiting yourself and your creative process to trying to combine ideas from the same field or subject matter.

Except understands sustainability to mean a complex, dynamic system. To come up with creative solutions for a system where everything is connected means you need to take into account all the different factors that are part of that system.

SiD is unique in systems thinking because creativity is at its center; SiD considers the social, economical, ecological, and political factors in the system of any new challenge they approach. Creativity is, in fact, crucial: to make truly impactful and long-lasting sustainable changes we need to change our systems, not our objects. Because SiD is flexible and malleable to the requirements of a project, it fits exactly what our current complex societal challenges need — a way to look at everything from all kinds of different angles.

Everything in our world is connected, though some connections may be less or more obvious than others. Sometimes we’re so far removed from the production of the items we use that it’s difficult to find out what kind of impact the toothbrush you’re using or the car you’re driving had while it was made, or will have when you no longer use it. Usually, we’ve become so used to the systems we live, work and play in that we can’t imagine a different way to do things. Or the system can seem like a mountain of problems too high to climb.

That’s where our creativity comes in. What new things can we connect and create once we open our minds to the opportunities? The combination with SiD’s systematic approach means that our mountains will get clear starting points with climbing equipment combined with defined hiking trails and victory rest stops where we can pause and appreciate the view of where we’ve come so far on our journey to a more sustainable world.

Written by Kai Bijnen.

Originally published at



Except Integrated Sustainability

A multidisciplinary team that creates better futures by applying systems thinking to solve complex sustainability challenges.