Natural Step and Sustainable Communities

By Ted Kuntz, M.Ed.


In 1988 Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert developed a series of consensus statements about the conditions that are essential to sustain life on this planet. With the assistance of more than 50 ecologists, chemists, physicists and medical doctors he created a paradigm that is changing the way governments and business are working.


Dr. Robert's paradigm is a simple, easy-to-understand model that identifies the rules for environmental and economic sustainability. He has learned that by sharing his model and then asking for advice about how to remove the obstacles to sustainability, others, including the business community, are eager to become involved. Through this simple model they have come to understand that it is not economically sustainable to continue behaviours that have no future.


I believe Dr. Robert offers Philia a viable model for developing caring and sustainable communities. It may serve us well to develop our model along the lines of Natural Step, as the latter clearly and simply identifies the rules for sustaining the community. At the same time we invite others to share with us their own ideas for identifying creative ways to remove the obstacles to sustainability.


With this in mind I have taken the liberty of beginning to identify statements about conditions that are essential for caring and sustainable communities. I have no illusions that my statements will even resemble the final version. When Dr. Robert wrote his first effort at identifying the rules for sustainability he assumed his colleagues would agree wholeheartedly with what he had written. It took 21 iterations to reach consensus among his colleagues. I simply wish to begin this dialogue, as I believe the model has merit.


As a way of beginning I share with you the four system conditions identified by Dr. Robert for an environmentally and economically sustainable society. They are:

  1. Substances from the earth's crust must not systematically increase in nature.
  2. Substances produced by society must not systematically increase in nature.
  3. The physical basis for the productivity and diversity of nature must not be systematically diminished.
  4. We must be fair and efficient in meeting basic human needs.


Using Dr. Robert's model and language, I offer the following suggested conditions for healthy and sustainable communities:

  • Recognize the capacity of the community to solve its own problems.
  • Recognize the capacities and gifts of all citizens.
  • Expect and create opportunities for all citizens to contribute to the greater good.
  • Rights must be balanced with responsibility.
  • Reciprocal relationships are more sustainable than relationships built on rights or compassion.
  • A caring society requires the sharing of culture, ideas and experiences.

As with environmental matters, we can no longer afford to live in ways that are not sustainable. It is not economically sustainable to rely on behaviours that have no future. The welfare state and the social service system are not sustainable. We require a deepening intellectual understanding of the importance of living sustainably.


The Process of Change

Dr. Robert identified the process of change as a result of his Natural Step experience. It is simply this:

  1. Describe the situation in simple and clear terms.
  2. Ask for advice on how to remove the obstacles to sustainability.


What he has observed is that change occurs in the following way:

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