Sustainable Systems Seminar Series with Peter Donaldson

Who are the Seminars for?

Recommended for grades 6-12 in Civics, History, Economics, Business, Marketing, Biology, Ecology, Environmental Science, Careers and Leadership. The Seminar Series is also available for college, adult community groups, professional associations and corporate employee education programs.

Curriculum Coaching

The Seminar Series is supported by additional curriculum design coaching and classroom modeling related to the integration of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, STEM outcomes for teachers and students, and the incorporation of systems thinking tools.


Introductory Seminars are offered on a one time basis at no cost. Following the initial experience, fees are determined on a sliding scale depending on the level of partnership developed and shared cost through grants and professional development funds.

About Peter Donaldson 

Seminar Topics

Sustainability 101

A lively introduction to systems thinking and the biggest possible systems to think about… the integration of ecological, economic and social conditions past, present and future. Students will gain a personalized understanding of what a sustainable future looks like based on the following definition for sustainability, now excepted world-wide: “meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.”

Stormwater Systems Thinking

A playful, poignant introduction to the biggest challenge facing our Puget Sound Bioregion. The Stormwater Systems Thinking Seminar, presented by Peter Donaldson, integrates four frameworks that support students in using primary source materials to drive inquiry learning and community problem solving: (1) systems thinking, (2) stormwater pollution, (3) stormwater solutions and (4) stewardship actions. Students gain an understanding of the legal obligation their city has to coordinate collective action to reduce polluted stormwater runoff in their jurisdiction. No one entity can do this alone. It’s a community challenge requiring a systems approach. The seminar is a call to action and includes an option for a pre/post-test inquiry unit through which students access their own aggregate responses to identify additional lines of research and community problem solving. 

Green Building Systems

The Pacific Northwest leads the world in proving the case for green buildings. We are not only constructing them, we are designing the performance criteria, and driving a new industrial revolution in materials and engineering. Students will gain an understanding of the range of green building systems including current city green building codes, Built Green, LEED, the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol and the Living Building Challenge. The seminar employs a case study approach using SEED, the world’s first sustainable school portable and the Bullitt Center, the greenest commercial office building on the planet, both here in Seattle area. Note: This seminar can be offered separately or in combination with the Sustainability School Assembly Program.

Zero Waste

The City of Seattle has established a policy framework for eliminating the concept of garbage from our lives. Nature doesn’t waste a single resource. It cycles every molecule. It seems inefficient not to follow nature’s example. Seattle defines “Zero Waste” as a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Here’s the question at the heart of the Zero Waste Seminar: “Where do you start? Note: This seminar can be offered separately or in combination with the Sustainability School Assembly Program.

Puget Sound 2050

This brain-teaser seminar combines an overview of historical patterns at the intersection of ecological, economic and social systems with an exercise in future scenario mapping. Assuming the goal is a healthy, vibrant, sustainable future and that we can make significant progress right here in our bioregion by the time students reach the age that most of their teachers are now, what can we learn from the past and what do we see as the most promising trends into the future. Students practice systems thinking by analyzing four plausible scenarios for the year 2050, determining the most desirable combination of potential forecasts and then backcasting to identify the smartest policy steps we can implement today. Note: This seminar can be offered separately or in combination with the Sustainability School Assembly Program.

Prototypes and Tipping Points

Students draw an elaborate timeline of prototypes and tipping points unpacking our assumptions about sustainable systems from the time of our great grandparents to the time of our great grandchildren. Through compelling examples, everyday props and facilitated discussion, student gain insights into the patterns of our past and project the most desirable scenarios into the future.

Flexible Seminar Formats

Single period - single class seminar: Up to five sections a day.

Block period - combined class seminar: 2-3 classes attend together in a double classroom, lecture hall or library setting for an extended learning experience. 

Two part seminar: An extended version of the seminar over two days. The first day immerses the students in big systems inquiries and the second day follows with systems solutions. It’s ideal to schedule 3-5 days of student research between each seminar.

Assembly combination: Each of the classroom seminar topics can also be offered in combination with the Sustainability School Assembly Program.

Pre and Post Tests to Drive Classroom Inquiry

Each Seminar includes a pre and post online survey to benchmark improved understanding and identify possible research projects. The tests are typically comprised of true or false, ranking, and short answer questions that take about 10-15 minutes of class time on computers. Aggregate data is available for classroom analysis within 24 hours of completing the tests to inspire further inquiry, research and action projects.