Conceptualizing and quantifying resilience and sustainability

Researchers in the Advanced Systems Analysis (ASA) Program contribute to the understanding of sustainability by applying the experiences of their particular studies, each of which deals with the concept in its own way. This allows for development of diverse, system-analytic approaches to quantifying sustainability.

© Malpetr | Dreamstime

© Malpetr | Dreamstime

Resilient systems are those that successfully navigate all stages of growth, development, collapse, and reorientation of this cycle, ASA work argued [1]. By analyzing traps that may hinder resilience of socioeconomic organizations and decision-management situations, the researchers showed that the required resources are often cultivated in earlier stages, thus requiring consideration of the entire life cycle for success.

Assessing “systemic health and development” of socioeconomic systems is a complex task; however, there are measures of system resilience that can be used, such as the system efficiency-redundancy balance [2]. Indeed, the concepts of resilience and sustainability can be extended to a range of ecological and human-made systems [3] and the efficiency-redundancy balance can be applied to inform actual governance and public policy for sustainable development of coupled natural-social systems [4].

The paradigm of the economic growth as a desirable policy outcome needs to be replaced by an attractive and working alternative in order to support transformations towards sustainability. In fact, our economic systems can be modified using nature as a model. As biomass growth is limited by available resources, nature uses the two other growth and development forms, information and networks, to achieve higher resource use efficiency. “Reduce”, “reuse”, and “recycle” are the three natural principles helping improve overall ecosystem functioning. A global model and futures scenario analyses show that implementation of the proposed principles will lead to a win-win situation [5].

A number of ASA studies have discussed specific indicators of sustainability addressing its different dimensions, including: ecosystem services evaluation [6][7], biodiversity [8], and un-captured Gross Domestic Product [9][10].


[1] Fath B, Dean CA & Katzmair H (2015). Navigating the adaptive cycle: An approach to managing the resilience of social systems. Ecology and Society 20(2):24.

[2] Goerner S, Fiscus D & Fath B (2015). Using energy network science (ENS) to connect resilience with the larger story of systemic health and development. Emergence: Complexity and Organization 17(3).

[3] Fath BD (2015). Quantifying economic and ecological sustainability. Ocean & Coastal Management 108:13-19.

[4] Yarime M, Kharrazi A (2015). Understanding the environment as a complex, dynamic natural-social system: Opportunities and challenges in public policies for promoting global sustainability, In: Modeling Complex Systems for Public Policies, eds. Furtado BA, Sakowski PAM, Tovolli MH, pp. 127-140. Institute for Applied Economic Research, Secretariat of Strategic Affairs of the Presidency of the Republic (SAE/PR) Brasilia, Brazil.

[5] Jorgensen SE, Fath BD, Nielsen SN, Pulselli FM, Fiscus DA & Bastianoni S (2015). Flourishing Within Limits to Growth: Following nature's way. Routledge: London, UK.

[6] Burkhard B, Fath BD, Jorgensen SE, Li BL (2015). Editorial: Use of ecological indicators in models. Ecological Modelling 295:1-4.

[7] Hayha T, Franzese PP, Paletto A & Fath BD (2015). Assessing, valuing, and mapping ecosystem services in Alpine forests. Ecosystem Services 14:12-23.

[8] Shanafelt DW, Dieckmann U, Jonas M, Franklin O, Loreau M, Perrings C (2015). Biodiversity, productivity, and the spatial insurance hypothesis revisited. Journal of Theoretical Biology 380:426-435.

[9] Watanabe C, Naveed K & Neittaanmaki P (2015). Dependency on un-captured GDP as a source of resilience beyond economic value in countries with advanced ICT infrastructure: Similarities and disparities between Finland and Singapore. Technology in Society 42:104-122.

[10] Watanabe C, Naveed & Zhao W (2015). New paradigm of ICT productivity - Increasing role of un-captured GDP and growing anger of consumer. Technology in Society 41:21-44. 


Capital Institute, Greenwich, Connecticut, USA

University of Siena - Club of Siena, Italy

FAS.Research, Vienna, Austria

Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden

Copenhagen University, Denmark

Towson University, USA

Frostburg State University, USA

Tokyo University, Japan 

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Last edited: 21 March 2016


Brian Fath

YSSP Scientific Coordinator Capacity Development and Academic Training Unit

Principal Research Scholar Systemic Risk and Resilience Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program


Flourishing within limits to growth

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