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The Natural Step for strategic sustainability

"If we think systematically, we will stop asking, How much is nature worth? We will know that we are a piece of nature ourselves." - Karl-Henrik Robèrt, The Natural Step Founder

Want strategic sustainability in your organization? Use The Natural Step method.

The Natural Step is a global network of non-profit organizations with a collective vision of a sustainable society and a mission to facilitate this transition.

With partners in 54 countries, The Natural Step International is striving to transition towards a fully sustainable global society by taking actions to support ecological, social, and economic sustainability. It is a science-based holistic approach that encourages work across disciplines to plan effectively.

The Natural Step was founded in Sweden in 1989 by scientist Karl-Henrik Robert. Robert outlined 4 system conditions for the sustainability of human activities on earth.

These 4 conditions are the basis for the Natural Step mission, which also consists of a framework for strategic sustainable development.

The Four System Conditions of a Sustainable Society

  1. We must eliminate our contributions to the systematic increase of resource extraction from earth's
  2. We must eliminate our contributions to the systematic increase of substances produced by society.
  3. We must eliminate our contributions to the systematic physical degradation of nature and natural processes.
  4. We must eliminate our contributions to conditions that systematically undermine people’s capacity to meet basic human needs.

The Natural Step applies the concept of “backcasting” as an important part of sustainable development. When using this approach, instead of imagining possible consequences of our actions, we envision an end and ask ourselves what must be done to get there.

We recognize that we cannot continue to violate sustainability principles if we wish to have a sustainable global society.

It is important to recognize that while it may be difficult to predict what exactly a sustainable global society might look like, we can all recognize and agree upon the science-based sustainability principles as an outline.

The ABCD method outlined below is then applied as organizations strive for sustainability in their operations.

The ABCD Method

A - Awareness and Visioning: Creating a vision for a sustainable future

B - Baseline Mapping: Using the 4 conditions to assess impacts of the organization

C - Creative solutions: Brainstorming potential solutions

D - Deciding on Priorities: Balancing moving towards sustainability with social, ecological and economic returns

Image sourced from: The Natural Step - Our Approach

The science behind the Natural Step’s approach focuses on the basic scientific laws that underlie earth’s systems. Two laws that can help us to better understand how our everyday actions affect our environment are the first two laws of thermodynamics.

The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy and mass are conserved, meaning that whenever we burn matter such as fossil fuels, waste will be generated.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that energy spread spontaneously. We can understand this to mean that anything we generate or create will eventually disperse into our surroundings.

These principles ask us to evaluate the consequences of the products we choose to purchase or the lifestyle choices we make, and apply them to our everyday lives. In this way we begin to reduce our environmental impact and take important steps towards sustainability.

How you can take action:

  1. Consume consciously. Purchase only what you need and be wary of the waste you generate.
  2. Be wary of your carbon footprint. Choose low emission or active forms of transit and try to buy local foods that do not need to be shipped long distances.
  3. Support local businesses or businesses that sell fair trade products.
  4. Envision projects or policies that could make your community more sustainable, and set out to enact them! Plant a community garden, organize a clothing swap, or write to your local representatives about building more bike lanes in your city to encourage active transportation.

Here are some resources that you may enjoy:

 - The natural step - the science behind our approach

 - The natural step framework for sustainable development

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