The Natural Step is one of the best frameworks for creating and implementing sustainability plans for any business or organisation. The framework is based on science and uses proven, best-practice methods.

The Natural Step

The framework works down from general, overarching systems and goals to specific tactics and actions that will achieve sustainability. It is a thorough self-referencing outline of a

1. Systems

This refers to the scope and description of the system. In terms of sustainability, the system is the entire biosphere, including us within it. So we need an understanding of the way our system works.

The Natural Step uses the ‘funnel’ metaphor to illustrate the idea that humanity currently operates in a system where natural resources and ecosystem services are decreasing while demands on these resources and services are increasing because of population growth and changing consumption patterns. This creates increased economic, social and environmental pressures over time – just like the pressure created when you push more into a closing funnel.

2. Success

Success is a sustainable society. In the field of sustainable development, a sustainable society means that nature is not subject to systematic increases in:

  • concentrations of substances from the Earth’s crust;
  • concentrations of substances produced by society;
  • degradation by physical means;

and, in that society,

  • people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.

These four system conditions are the basis for The Natural Step’s four sustainability principles. These scientific principals are central to The Natural Step’s framework and inform all decision-making about sustainability.

3. Strategic Guidelines

This is where we talk about strategic guidelines for organisations to follow in implementing their sustainability journey.

For a sustainable organisation this is about ‘backcasting’ from the four sustainability principles. In other words it involves having a vision of the organisation in the future when it is sustainableand then ‘backcasting’ to the present to determine what specific actions should be taken to move strategically towards that vision.

4. Actions

These are the specific actions that are taken on the path to sustainability. Depending on the nature of the organisation, they could include things like phasing out fossil fuel use by switching to renewable energy or replacing metals that are scarce and potentially harmful with ones that are naturally abundant in the biosphere and therefore benign.

5. Tools

There are a variety of tools that help organisations manage and implement their path towards sustainability. Different tools are effective in different situations, but a lot of them work well together and create synergies when utilised within the context of a strategic framework. Examples of some of the many excellent sustainability tools include Environmental Management Systems, ISO 14001, Life Cycle Assessment, Biomimicry approaches, Cradle to Cradle design, Factor 10, Natural Capitalism, Ecological Footprinting, Zero Emission, etc.

This page was adapted from The Natural Step’s website.

 The Natural Step logo