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Our Approach - The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development
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Our approach is collectively called the “Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development” – it is a comprehensive model for planning in complex systems. It is openly published and free for all to use. The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development has helped hundreds of different organisations around the world integrate sustainable development into their strategic planning and create long lasting transformative change. It is constantly being used, tested, refined and developed.
Choose your own adventure
As the journey toward sustainability is complex, we have created three distinct learning paths. Pick the path that best suits your needs based on your awareness and experience with sustainability and the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development.
- This is my first encounter with the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development and I'd like a quick overview.
- I've heard about the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development and I'd like to take the next steps or give myself a refresher. Please give me a complete (and quick) perspective on your approach.
- I know and understand the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development and I'd like to go deeper or get an in depth refresher. I'm ready to do some deep learning (as deep as a webpage will allow).
Sustainability: critical for success
The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development is based on systems thinking; recognizing that what happens in one part of a system affects every other part. Think of a soccer team. We can’t understand why the team lost the game until we look at how each player – the goal keeper, defenders and forwards - all worked together on the field. We won’t learn much if we just study one member of the team. The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development gives an organisation the tools to look at the whole team, understand the rules of the game, define success, and move towards it together.
Any successful team must have a common language and understanding in order to facilitate cooperation. The Framework provides this shared mental model of sustainability by helping people across organisations, disciplines and cultures to communicate effectively, build consensus and ultimately move toward their vision. We use an upstream approach that anticipates and avoids problems before they occur, rather than reacting to their downstream effects.
This scientifically rigorous Framework gives organisations the tools to perform a gap analysis using the lens of sustainability, and then work toward closing the gap. Furthermore, The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development complements other sustainability tools and methodologies, such as life cycle analysis or environmental management systems, by providing the context and strategic vision that makes them more effective.
The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development:
The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development has been used in strategic decision-making by hundreds of organisations, in multiple sectors, across supply chains and in various scales, offering concrete and simple ways to accelerate change toward sustainability.
A complete (and quick) review of The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development
The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development:
In-depth presentation of The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development
If you are well acquainted with sustainability and the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development and you're looking for an in depth refresher or deeper learning, this is the right place for you.
The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development is the application of a 5 Level framework for strategic sustainable development. The Natural Step has long realised that, in order to avoid getting lost in the details of our problems, we must look upstream to see the entire system, our planet (see tree metaphor for systems thinking).
This scientific consensus on the high level perspective of our system (the human society within the biosphere), allows for the identification of system conditions that define success in our system. The system conditions provide the basic requirements for sustainability in the biosphere, and can be likened to the rules of chess. Just as in chess, the system conditions define what it means to “win in this system," but they don't say what the future should look like. From a sustainability perspective, "winning in the system" is becoming a sustainable society.
For an individual, an organisation, or all of our societies, the system conditions can be rephrased as sustainability principles. If you are confused about the difference between sustainability conditions and principles, visit our FAQ page. The funnel metaphor helps us to visualize the system and its challenges, and understand the conditions for success.
Once success is described in the system, we then need to create a strategy to get there. The scientific information AND practical experience shows that we need to backcast from sustainability principles, and that the actions resulting from this must be prioritised using 3 strategic prioritisation questions.
The work that flows out of backcasting from sustainability principles and answering these 3 strategic prioritisation questions will differ from one organisation to another, and will become a source of inspiration and leadership. Tools help support the realization of actions as well as measure the strategy’s progress and the state of the system. The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development can be used in conjunction with many other tools since sustainability is complex and requires an varied arsenal of tools and concepts.
Finally, the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development can be put in practice without using the above “in-depth” description and vocabulary. We use graphic metaphors and easy to remember strategic processes like ABCD to help everyone become expert strategic actors towards sustainability. This theory is present to better develop the science and application of the Framework, but it not necessary for each user to know and understand. We have tried to provide a step-by-step and logical approach to a highly complicated subject matter.
We realize that there are limits to the depth of material that can be covered online. If you are interested in learning more, consider taking one of our eLearning courses or visiting our learning programmes page.
Back to Basics
The Natural Step principles and approach to sustainability are grounded in the scientific laws underlying the earth's systems. These are well known and accepted by scientists. While we all intuitively understand these basic scientific principles, we often overlook them in our day-to-day lives.
They are as follows:
All mass and energy in the universe is conserved. Energy may be converted into different forms, but the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant.
This principle of matter conservation and the First Law of Thermodynamics are helpful in understanding the earth as a system. For example, apart from the occasional meteorite or spaceship, the amount of matter on earth has stayed the same for billions of years. When matter is burned it is not destroyed, but transformed into waste, predominantly in the form of visible and invisible gases.
Energy and matter tend to spread spontaneously; everything has a tendency to disperse (the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or the Law of Entropy).
Although the total amount of energy remains constant, the quantity of energy that is available in a useful form decreases with each transformation and tends to dissipate through a system. Entropy is a measure of the amount of disorder or randomness there is in a system, and in every isolated system - such as the universe - entropy always increases. Examples of this include food decaying, coloured dye in clear water dispersing, a car rusting and ice samples taken in the Arctic Circle containing measurable amounts of man-made PCBs.
Thus, materials generated by, or introduced into, human society will eventually disperse in nature.
There is Value in Structure
We determine material quality by the concentration and structure of the matter that makes up a material. For example, food and petrol are valuable because they have a high concentration and structure. What we consume are the qualities of matter and energy - the concentration, purity, and structure of matter - and the ability of energy to perform work. We never consume energy or matter because it is neither created nor destroyed. If you drop a teacup and it breaks on the floor, much of the value from its structure is lost, but each of the original atoms is still present.
Photosynthesis Pays the Bills
Net increases in material quality on Earth are generated almost entirely by the sun-driven process of photosynthesis. Chloroplasts in plant cells capture energy from sunlight and form bonds that provide energy for other forms of life, such as animals.
According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, disorder increases in all isolated systems. The Earth is a closed system with respect to matter, but it is an open system with respect to energy because it receives light from the sun. It is this flow of sunlight that continues to create structure and order from the disorder.