Spring 2022 - REM 221 D100

Systems Thinking and the Environment (4)

Class Number: 5701

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We, Fr 1:30 PM – 2:20 PM
    AQ 4150, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    One of REM 100, GEOG 100, GEOG 111, or EVSC 100.



Introduces systems thinking in the context of environmental and sustainability challenges using system archetypes and system dynamics theory. Analytical and modeling techniques are applied to understand and project systems complexity. Students with credit for ENV 221 may not take this course for further credit. Quantitative.


This course introduces students to the concept of systems thinking and how it can be applied to many/most problems and systems they will come across in their careers. We will learn common systems thinking tools, and core concepts like archetypes and leverage. The course will use environmental and sustainability challenges as examples to illustrate system archetypes and dynamics. A final project will challenge students with the opportunity to identify and propose solutions to problems in any one of the sub-disciplines within REM.

This course is offered with synchronous lectures offered in-class AND remotely. Students can attend the format they wish, though attendance is expected for each class. Tutorials are in-class only.


After completing REM 221, students will be able to:

  • Define a system, types of systems, and be able to use of systems thinking terminology
  • Explain at 10 system archetypes
  • Use math to describe simple linear and non-linear dynamics of systems
  • Describe how limits can affect functioning of systems
  • Explain resilience, self organization, emergent properties within the context of system function
  • Explain the opportunities and dangers inherent in decision making using a systems lens including consideration of unintended consequences, trade-offs, tipping points and sensitivity
  • Explain the types of analytical tool/methods used to understand systems
  • Demonstrate the ability to use a simple model to project system function


  • Quizzes 5%
  • Tutorial assignments 30%
  • Mid-term exam 25%
  • Class assignments 15%
  • Complex systems challenge 25%


Class assignments are designed to help students apply work towards understanding the final complex systems challenge and will be given to students to be completed outside class time. Tutorial assignments involve exploring systems thinking concepts using InsightMaker.com and other online tools.

Short in-class quizzes will be provided to test student comprehension, act as a reminder for past discussions and signal important concepts in the class.

A group term project will be assigned on one aspect of systems thinking. This will consist of a case study and online assignment, and a presentation during the time set aside for the final exam.



Donella Meadows (2008) Thinking in Systems – a primer ISBN 978-1-84407-726-7
A digital version of this book is available through the bookstore: https://sfu-store.vitalsource.com/products/thinking-in-systems-donella-meadows-v9781603581486?term=9781603580557

Additional papers will be provided in-class.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2022 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with safety plans in place.  Some courses will still be offered through remote methods, and if so, this will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the spring 2022 term.