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Understanding the Problem
The Funnel – Society Is Being Squeezed
We use a funnel as a metaphor to help visualise the growing economic, social and environmental pressures that are acting on society. The way most human societies work now, as we move through time, these pressures continue to increase, giving us less and less room to operate, until we run out of room altogether.
The things we need to survive - food, clean air and water, productive topsoil and others - are in decline because they are being used, exhausted or damaged faster than nature can regenerate them.
But at the same time, our demand for these resources is growing. There are more than seven billion people on the planet and the population is increasing. So are our levels of consumption.
As our demand increases and the capacity to meet this demand declines, society moves further into the narrower portion of the funnel. As the funnel narrows there are fewer options and less room to manoeuver. Organisations that continue business-as-usual are likely to hit the walls of the funnel, and fail. That's where The Natural Step can help.
Opening the Walls of the Funnel -- We Can Help
Every one of us lives and works in this funnel and every one of us has the opportunity to be more strategic about our choices and long-term plans. Through innovation, creativity and the unlimited potential for change, we can shift our ways of thinking and doing towards sustainability. The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) that The Natural Step originated and has refined in practice over the past 25 years provides a method for doing exactly that.
In this way, forward-looking organisations can position themselves to avoid the squeeze of the funnel by investing towards creating a truly sustainable and rewarding future, regardless of what everyone else does. The more we do this, the more we begin to open up the walls of the funnel again, to create more breathing room for ourselves and our planet’s life-sustaining natural processes to thrive.
The Tree – Don’t Get Lost In the Leaves
Whole Systems Thinking is more or less explained in the name – it deals with complex systems (such as the biosphere, a government, the weather, a company, an ecosystem, or a farm). It reflects the idea that it's important to take into account all of the components of whatever system we’re looking at and how they interact, affecting one another in multiple feedback loops. Seeing how everything acts on everything else within the system helps us understand what’s really going on in a way we couldn’t from just analyzing a few of the parts.
This is a daunting task. But it's important to do, otherwise you get lost in the details—specific areas of specialization (which may be very complex and confusing on their own) and you can spend a lot of time and energy trying to solve a problem, only to realize that you've created another. You can go on in this way until you get confused and frustrated and give up.
To avoid this, we often use the metaphor of a tree where the trunk and branches represent a framework with core principles (4 Sustainability Principles) that help guide our conversations at a fundamental level, and the leaves represent all of the details - specific issues and areas of expertise. Because the task of creating a sustainable society is so massive and complex, no one is going to have all the answers - there's simply too much information. So we need all kinds of scientists, economists, policy makers, researchers, teachers, business leaders, etc. to work together.
Getting onto the Same Page
But such a diverse group brings with it a vast array of ideas, opinions and special interests. Dialogue can quickly degenerate into bickering, confusion and misunderstanding. This is dealing in the "leaves,” the details. Paper or Plastic? Solar, Wind or Oil? These are examples of the details – obviously important ones - but we can’t approach these complex, confusing, politically charged issues without a shared framework - some facts that everyone can agree on. This is what we mean by the "trunk and branches" of the tree. Once we have this shared framework, we can tackle the details with many kinds of specialists working on various aspects of the issues, yet all guided by shared principles and a shared target.
You can think of the 4 Sustainability Principles as guidelines, or the rules of the game - like the rules in chess or football/soccer. Learning the rules is the easy part, but if everyone doesn't understand them, no one's going to get very far playing the game. And this is very often the step that is skipped when we set out to create strategies to reach sustainability.
For more on The Natural Step's strategic framework that helps get everyone working together with a shared "trunk and branches" mental model, click the link below.