A Natural Step to Sustainability

January 10, 1996

By Michael Jessen

Sweden's newest export is a business-and-life philosophy called The Natural Step.

Founded in 1989 by Karl-Henrik Robert, The Natural Step was Robert's way to encourage business and government to act on a manageable number of generally agreed-upon environmental realities.

Robert developed a paper on the basic conditions he considered necessary for a sustainable society and sent it to Sweden's science community for comment. He incorporated suggestions and recirculated the document.

After repeating this process 21 times, Robert introduced his consensus paper.

At the root of his theory is the cyclic principle, which says that there must be as much reconstruction of material as there is consumption, and that excess waste must not accumulate in nature. He elaborated four conditions for sustainability and concluded that if we want life to continue, we must (a) be efficient in our use of resources and (b) promote justice -- because ignoring poverty will lead the poor, for short-term survival, to destroy resources (e.g., the rainforests) that we all need for long-term survival.

This consensus by the scientists of an entire nation was endorsed by Sweden's head of state. An education packet based on the report was sent to every household and school. Then a roster of famous artists and celebrities went on TV to promote and celebrate this project which promises to completely reorganize the nation's way of life to bring it into alignment with the laws of nature. This is what happened in Sweden.

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