The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: A New Vision for a Positive Planet


In 2015, the United Nations announced an ambitious set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to assemble the world's private and public sectors to converge around the core problem areas that we must address as a collective society to move into a sustainable future.

The goals are universal and set ambitious targets for creating healthier, happier, and more positive lifestyle opportunities for all 7.4 billion people living on the planet.


Our founder and lead creative changemaker at Disrupt Design was named Champion of the Earth by the United Nations in 2016 for her pioneering work in elevating science-led sustainability and innovation. All of our programs and initiatives align with the SDGs, especially with goal 12 in helping to bring about change in the way we design, produce, and consume products. On September 25th 2015, 193 world leaders will commit to 17 Global Goals to achieve 3 extraordinary things in the next 15 years. End extreme poverty. Fight inequality & injustice. Fix climate change. The Global Goals for sustainable development could get these things done. In all countries. For all people.

An Introduction to the Disruptive Design Method

an introduction to the Disruptive Design Method by Disrupt Design

The Disruptive Design Method is an approach to exploring, understanding, and evolving complex problems into sustainable solutions. It combines systems thinking, sustainability sciences, and design methodologies to create problem-loving creative changemakers who are capable of diving deep into complex problem sets, developing strong social innovation outcomes, and reconfiguring business toward the Circular Economy.

The world needs more pioneers of change, people who are willing to intentionally and thoughtfully disrupt the status quo of deep-seeded problem arenas. Innovation is useful for iterating at the edges, but what I am interested in founding is a movement of creative changemakers who have the critical, cognitive, and practical tools to understand, intervene, and activate positive impacts globally.

going beyond innovation and design thinking with the Disruptive Design Method

To clarify, in the case of this approach, ‘disruption’ is used to describe the active intervention into a problem arena by diving deep under its obvious components and mining its foundations to be able to then develop a systemic understanding of what feeds the issue being addressed. Then, by applying techniques such as systems mapping, one can identify intervention points and create designs that seek to shift the status quo of the problem arena. This approach is all about intent to positively intervene and disrupt the status quo of any problem arena to ensure that the outcome is more effective, equitable, and sustainable.

There is a three-part Method (that anyone can use) and a 12-part Methodology set that underpins the applied Method. Let me lay these out now:

The 3-Part Disruptive Design Method

There are three distinct parts to the applied Disruptive Design Method — Mining, Landscaping, and Building (MLB) — each is enacted and cycled through in order to gain a granulated, refined outcome through iterative feedback loops.


The first part is Mining, where the mindset is one of curiosity and exploration. In this phase, we do deep participatory research, suspend the need to solve, avoid trying to impose order, and embrace the chaos of any complex system. The tools of the phase are: research, observation, exploration, curiosity, wonderment, participatory action, questioning, data collection, and insights.


The second part is Landscaping. This is where we take all the parts that we uncovered during the Mining phase and start to piece them together to form a landscaped view through systems mapping and exploration. Landscaping is the mindset of connection, where you see the the world as a giant jigsaw puzzle that you are putting back together and creating a different perspective that enables a bird’s eye view of the problem arena. Insights are gathered, and locations of where to intervene in the system to leverage change are identified. The tools for this phase are: systems mapping (cluster, interconnected circles, etc.), dynamic systems exploration, synthesis, emergence, identification, insight gathering, and intervention identification.


The third part of the MLB Method is Building. This is the creative ideation phase that allows for the development of divergent design ideas that build on potential intervention points to leverage change within the system. The goal is to not solve but to evolve the problem arena you are working within so that the status quo is shifted. Here we use a diversity of ideation and prototyping tools to move through a design process to get to the best-fit outcome for your intervention.

iterative action research with the disruptive design method

Iterative Action

The key to this entire approach is iteration and ‘cycling through’ the stages to get to a refined and ‘best-fit’ outcome. Why do we do this? Because problems are complex, knowledge builds over time, and experience gives us the tools to make change that sticks and grows. This cycling through approach draws upon the Action Research Cycle to create an iterative approach to exploring, understanding, and evolving the problem arena.

systems at play diagram by leyla acaroglu

The 12-Part Methodology Set

The three applied parts of the MLB Method are based on a more complex Methodology set. This set combines 12 divergent theory arenas to form the foundation to complex problem identification, solving and evolving that develops a three-dimensional perspective of the way the world works. From cognitive sciences to gamification and systems interventions, the 12 units of the Disruptive Design Methodology are designed to fit together to form the foundations of a practice in creative changemaking. We teach the full set at the UnSchool as part of our online and in-person workshops.

Systems, Sustainability and Design

Through the MLB Method, systems boundaries are used to define the problem arenas one wants to explore and through systems mapping connection points perfect for tactical interventions are exposed (which is often not where you would intuitively think, based on your starting knowledge in the problem arena).

From this, new knowledge is built from the mining and landscaping phases, that form the foundations for rapidly developing divergent and creative ideas to intervening in the problem arena. Any problem from small, hyper-local concerns to massive global issues can be explored and evolved through this MLB Method. And, because it’s a thinking and doing practice, it can be adapted and evolved based on the problem. The core of the approach is always systems, sustainability, and design.

Becoming a Problem-Lover

Instead of avoiding or ignoring problems, this method teaches you how to be a problem lover who dives right into the sticky center of the issue; and has the tools to cycle through the issues and seek out the non-obvious opportunities, designing divergent solutions that build on your unique individual sphere of influence, which is the space we can all curate to affect change on the people or things around us.

Systems thinking is one of the powerful tools that we use to explore complex problems, it enables any practitioner to see the entire system from multiple perspectives and empowers a shift in ridged to flexible mindsets.

The Green Economy: A Future that is Sustainable, Regenerative and Circular



There is no doubt of the need to rapidly address the social and environmental issues facing humanity today. Thankfully, the global creative and business community has started to adapt and take action in moving toward the United Nations (and many others) calls the 'Green Economy'. An economy that is sustainable, regenerative and circular in nature.  

This is a global movement away from the ‘business as usual’ approach to the commodification of natural resources and the prioritization of profit over purpose, to circular and regenerative products and systems that provide economic growth and social equity all within the Earth's carrying capacity. 

Seeking to incorporate the ‘ability’ to ‘sustain’ life on Earth, the conjoined word ‘sustainability’ has taken on many cultural meanings since it started to become more widely used in the late 1990s. The concept of economic growth in line with biosystem constraints and in respect of social systems makes complete sense when you consider the fundamental principles of life of Earth. We are all sustained by food, air, and water – none of which we can make ourselves without the beautifully complex natural systems that flourish on Earth. 

The shift towards a circular, sustainable and regenerative economy is often referred to as being ignited in 1987 when the Our Common Future came out (called the Brundtland Report, crediting the main author). Then, at the Rio Earth Summit, the definition of sustainable development was catapulted into the public arena, setting the global agenda for a future that is sustainable and regenerative. 

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
— Definition of Sustainable Development in the Brundtland Report, 1987, p. 43
A new plan for people and planet has just launched - the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Tell everyone!

In 2015, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 17 global goals to be achieved over a 15-year plan. The Green Economy is critical to achieving these goals, with the Partnership for Action on the Green Economy bringing together nations, states and the private sector to rapidly transition to sustainable systems. 

Many organizations and industry leaders who are adapting to the Green Economy need to rapidly upskill in Circular Systems and Sustainable Design in order to build capacity in creating new business models, technologies, and service models that fit within this fundamentally different approach to generating wealth and serving global human needs. 

How are you making changes to be apart of the future economy? Circular Systems Design, life cycle, and systems thinking are all credible and powerful tools to enact organizational shifts towards a circular and green economy. 

The 3 Main Systems at Play in the World are...

3 main systems at play in systems thinking by leyla acaroglu

One of the obstacles many people experience when starting to embrace a systems worldview is the infinite possibility of everything being interconnected.

This often overwhelms people, limiting their ability to see what is immediately at play in the world around them. So, we have developed a simple identification tool for people who are starting out in systems thinking.


Shifting to this mindset begins with identifying and thinking through the major systems at play: social, industrial, and ecological. This helps people to classify the intangible and structural systems to then be able see how they interact and impact society at large.  

  1. Social: these are the human-created systems that are constructed to facilitate and advance human society, such as education, finance, legal frameworks, and government.

  2. Industrial: these are the products, goods, infrastructure, and services created to facilitate the social systems that serve humanity. Their physicality and need for materials to function usually categorize them. These include roads, transport, cars, petrol stations, and the parts needed to make each of them function.

  3. Ecosystems: these are the natural systems that sustain life on Earth, provide the raw materials that facilitate the industrial systems, and literally keep the world spinning. These include the hydrogen cycle, carbon cycle, flora and fauna, minerals, and nutrient cycles. Everything in nature is circular. Humans, however, tend to make our industrial systems linear – which is one of the root causes of unsustainability.

These three system categories form the foundation for an understanding of how the world works. They inform the dynamic relationships between human needs, social order, infrastructure, and ecosystem services.

Of course, you see that they are all interconnected when you begin mapping them.

Shifting Mindsets through systems thinking


If your goal is to develop the capacity to intervene and leverage change within a systems framework, then use social, industrial, and ecosystems as the foundational building blocks for this approach.

Each of these three major categories contain many subsystems that allow one to identify and map the landscape within which one is seeking to effect change. For example, the human system is a subset of education, but it needs infrastructure, life, schools, and books to fit within the current model of education.

Without raw materials for buildings and food to sustain the educator – we would not have the ability to deliver the service of education.  

When we run workshops at Disrupt, we always start with this map and then move into more detailed and complex explorations through analog systems mapping techniques.

Within a short period of time, people understand it. The world is complex, but it also is completely relatable when you start to explore its dynamic interconnectedness.