The Natural Step™

The Natural Step™
The Natural Step is a framework (see Figure 3.17) promoted by an international organization that proposes four fundamental system condi­tions to help stabilize the global biosphere. This approach is general, and the ecological and economic benefits of the Natural Step are often difficult to measure (which isn’t so different than many of the other frameworks).

Strengths: A development and business-pos­itive approach seeking to help organizations make better choices.

Weaknesses: No formal techniques to use for either evaluation or development. Subjective.

The four system conditions include the following:

• System Condition #1: Substances from the earth’s crust must not systematically in­crease in the biosphere. Fossil fuels, metals, and other minerals must not be extracted at a faster rate than their redeposit and regen­eration in the earth’s crust.

• System Condition #2: Substances pro­duced by society must not systematically increase in nature. Substances must not be produced faster than they can be broken down and be reintegrated into the cycles of nature or be deposited in the earth’s crust.

• System Condition #3: The physical basis for the productivity and diversity of nature must not systematically deteriorate. Produc­tive surfaces of nature must not be dimin­ished in quality or quantity, and we must not harvest more from nature than can be recreated or renewed.

• System Condition #4: There needs to be fair and efficient use of resources with re­spect to meeting human needs. Basic hu­man needs must be met with the most re­source efficient methods possible, including equitable resource distribution.

The Natural Step advocates systems thinking. Like Natural Capitalism and Proxy LCAs, it tries to focus on the sources of the greatest impacts in order to generate progress without getting bogged down in disorienting details. This is best displayed by The Natural Step Resource Funnel (see Figure 3.18).

The Natural Step™

Resource Funnel

Declining Life – Sustaining Resources


FIGURE 3.18. Ж http://www. flickr. com/photos/rosenfeldmedia/3261675030

The Natural Step Resource Funnel.

The funnel presents the immediacy of the global ecological crisis in a funnel-shaped diagram, and shows how important it is for us to acknowledge the crisis and its impacts. The funnel shows how the decline in living systems is in conflict with the increasing demand for products. As the funnel narrows, there is less and less margin for action. However, it dem­onstrates that forward-looking organizations that act on this understanding will be better suited to balance sustainable demand with sustainable supply. Businesses can be shown that it is economically advantageous to make change now, before future pressures make it necessary—because a forward planning com­pany (moving through the center of the tunnel) is more profitable than a reactive, defensive company. The ultimate goal of Natural Step’s perspective on business is the restoration of liv­ing systems.