Spring 2023 - REM 221 D100

Systems Thinking and the Environment (4)

Class Number: 5157

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 4 – Apr 11, 2023: Wed, Fri, 1:30–2:20 p.m.

  • 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. These concepts will be applied to think about system resilience: how can you keep the system working the way you want it to. 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 a management problem


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
  • 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%
  • Mid-term exam 25%
  • Tutorial assignments 40%
  • Complex systems challenge (in place of final exam) 30%


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 Vensim software.

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 last week of class.



Donella Meadows (2008) Thinking in Systems – A Primer
A digital version of this book is available through the bookstore: http://www.sfu.ca/bookstore/coursematerials

Additional papers will be provided in-class.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website 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