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The size of the problem equals the size of the opportunity
The Natural Step is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to education, advisory work, system change initiatives, innovation and research in sustainable development. Since 1989, we have worked with thousands of corporations, municipalities, academic institutions and not-for-profit organisations that have proven that moving strategically toward sustainability leads to new opportunities, reduced costs and dramatically reduced ecological and social impacts.
Rigorous science. Practical solutions.
The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD), which we developed, is a proven, scientifically robust model that helps organisations make pragmatic decisions to move toward sustainability. With our partners, we research the science of sustainability and link it to real world applications. We create dialogue about the opportunities and challenges in building a sustainable future. We are accelerating the transition to a thriving world.
The FSSD has taken people beyond the arguments of what is and is not possible; beyond politics of left or right wing perspectives. Instead, the Framework builds on a basic understanding of what makes life possible, how our biosphere functions and how we are part of the earth’s natural systems. Rather than get lost in abstract definitions and causes, it builds on a platform of basic science and is designed to allow true interdisciplinary, cross sector cooperation for concrete and measurable change towards sustainability. After all, if you want to achieve ‘success’, you have to first understand what this means in real terms before you can then take strategic steps to achieve it.
A simple idea. An enormous opportunity.
In the late 1980’s, Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt, a Swedish doctor and cancer scientist, was treating numerous children with cancer. He couldn’t help but notice how their families, care providers and the communities came together quickly and efficiently with compassion and coordinated resources to try and make a difference. This was in stark contrast to the confusion, debate and inactivity he observed about the health of the planet overall.
While examining cells from one of his cancer patients under the microscope, Dr. Robèrt was struck with a very simple, but very powerful idea. What if we could get agreement on the system conditions for the continuation of human life – rooted in a basic understanding of the requirements for healthy cells? From the perspective of the cell (that smallest unit of life—that merges us in a way that goes beyond politics and belief systems), we could build consensus among governments, business people and environmentalists as to what must be agreed to at the most basic levels to safeguard prosperous life for humans on the planet.
Dr. Robèrt drafted a first version of such a ‘consensus document’ and sent this draft to a broad cross-section of scientists, including over 50 ecologists, chemists, physicists and medical doctors in Sweden and asked for their input. Twenty-one drafts later, there was at last consensus about what is in principle needed to sustain human civilization on earth. With the support of His Majesty the King of Sweden, Karl XVI Gustaf, this ‘consensus document’ and accompanying audio tape was sent to every household and school in Sweden.
The Natural Step was born
Following this consensus document, Dr. Robèrt worked out a first version of system conditions for sustainability and a planning method that later evolved into and became known as the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD). Dr. Robèrt published these results in 1992 in a book called “The Necessary Step”. He also employed a team who began building the non-profit organisation The Natural Step with the purpose of facilitating the further development and application of the Framework.
Partnerships with Academia Lead to Evolution of the Framework
Around the time The Natural Step was formed, Dr. Robèrt was offered a chair at Chalmers University of Technology where he started to work with Professor Karl-Erik Eriksson and his PhD student John Holmberg to elaborate the system conditions as well as the planning method further as part of John Holmberg’s PhD thesis work. By 1992 Dr. Robèrt had also met with Göran Broman, one of the founders of The Natural Step “Engineers for the Environment” network and a PhD student at Lund University. He too had for many years thought about conditions for a sustainable society and of ways to reach it. During the 1990s the three men developed successive refinements of the Framework as well as supplementary concepts, methods, tools, pedagogy and teaching materials for sustainable development. In parallel, an increasing number of Natural Step advisors became engaged in applying the Framework to businesses and municipalities in Sweden and internationally.
Around the year 2000 Dr. Broman, now at The Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH), invited Dr. Robèrt to a chair at BTH and a wider cooperation between BTH and The Natural Step evolved. At BTH, Dr. Broman and Dr. Robèrt have amongst other things led an integration of sustainability in engineering education, built a world-leading sustainability research group and co-initiated a successful Master’s program in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability. Several hundred alumni of this program are now applying the Framework in their respective countries and workplaces around the world.
Deepening The Natural Step’s scientific roots, in May 2008, The Natural Step, BTH and Lund University launched the Alliance for Strategic Sustainable Development. This is an alliance of universities examining the science of sustainable development in collaboration with businesses, NGOs, communities and policy-makers around the world. The programme supports leaders as they implement sustainability solutions - ensuring that their decision making is based on scientific foundations and that it will result in real change towards sustainability.
A New Direction for The Natural Step
For the past few years, The Natural Step International has been going through a significant process to revisit the strategic goals of the organization and to ask ourselves what our greatest contribution to the sustainability movement could be in today’s context.
What has emerged is a new way forward and a renewed intention to put The Natural Step’s track record, brand and value proposition at the service of accelerating the transition to a thriving world—one in which human beings live within the capacity of the Earth to sustain us.