The Natural Step

The Natural Step is an international non-profit organisation that guides us in strategic decision-making for sustainability (economic, ecological and social sustainability). Their principles for sustainable development are based on one fundamental question: under what circumstances would we be able to live sustainably?

According to the Natural Step, the concept of sustainable development is about finding ways to satisfy our basic needs (subsistence, protection, participation, idleness, love, understanding, creativity, identity and freedom) in a way that does not undermine the balance of social and ecological systems. The overall methodology of The Natural Step is based on four principles that can guide the way to concrete actions for a sustainable society.

The four system conditions

In a sustainable society, nature is not exposed to a systematic increase in…

  1. Substances extracted from bedrock (e.g. fossil carbon and heavy metals)
    To move towards sustainable development, we need a systematic replacement of certain minerals that are rare in nature with those that are abundant. We also need to use all mined materials more efficiently and systematically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
  2. The concentration of substances produced in society (e.g. NOx and endocrine disruptors)
    To move towards sustainable development, we must systematically replace certain persistent and unnatural compounds (synthetics) with those that are naturally abundant or that easily break down in nature. We also need to increase the effective use of all substances produced by society and release them at a pace that does not overloading the balancing ability of nature.
  3. Depletion of the physical base of Earth’s natural cycles and biological diversity (e.g. from traffic infrastructure, deforestation, overfishing)
    To move towards sustainable development, we must use only resources from well-balanced ecosystems. We also need to systematically use local resources and land in a productive and efficient manner and be cautious in all kinds of changes in the environment (e.g. changed land use).
  4. Meeting the needs
    In this community people are not prevented from meeting their needs (e.g. through the abuse of political and economic power)

To move towards sustainable development, we need to create and support measures and strategies to overcome the obstacles barring people from meeting their basic human needs. These include unsafe working conditions, wages that people cannot live off, the abuse of political, economic or social power, and wasteful / unfair resource distribution.

Nine success factors

Many leading companies realise that conversion to a sustainable society is our most important future issue and they are looking for ways to create a new type of value creation, including resource enhancements, improved relationships and innovative solutions.

In large parts of the business world, sustainability is about to become an essential driving force for innovation. According to The Natural Step, there are nine specific success factors – organisational abilities and characteristics – which guide companies’ efforts to strengthen their innovation power for sustainable products, services and solutions. These nine success factors are:

  1. Leadership with sustainability as a driving force
  2. A broad and deep commitment
  3. The aim is set for full durability
  4. The sustainability ambition is operational and concrete
  5. Security that fosters
  6. Value creation through sustainable development
  7. System perspective and impact
  8. Cross-border cooperation
  9. Transparency for change