Sustainability is about the systems of the environment, human society, and the economy. Without the environment, we wouldn’t have the fresh air, water, or other resources that allow society to exist. And without society, we wouldn’t have the workers or customers that allow an economy to exist.
When we see how these systems work together, it’s obvious that we need to live within the capacity of the earth to support life. But today, humanity’s escalating wants and needs for resources and disposal are on a collision course with the diminishing capacity of the earth to provide them. Almost every natural resource, whether renewable or non-renewable, is being systematically depleted and our wastes are overloading the planet’s ability to recycle them.
The longer these trends persist, the more unstable the world will become. Sustainability describes a more durable and secure way wherein meeting everyone’s basic needs is not done at a cost to other people or the planet.
Sustainability cannot be achieved without leadership, innovation, and creativity. All sectors of society must make transformational shifts. It will be the greatest challenge of our time, but also an enormous opportunity.
Thankfully, most people feel a moral obligation to move toward a more sustainable world.
The Natural Step spells out how to do so with four scientifically-robust Sustainability Objectives. Put into non-scientific language, the objectives are:
1. Extract only as many substances from the earth’s crust – fossil fuels and heavy metals – as the planet can re-absorb.
2. Limit the production of society-made substances to what the biosphere can assimilate or break down.
3. Reduce the overharvesting and physical destruction of natural resources – forests, fresh water, soil, etc. – that diminish the planet’s rejuvenation.
4. Meet all human needs fairly and efficiently so that the first three conditions are easier to achieve.
In addition, The Natural Step framework provides processes and tools to strategically communicate, plan, and implement sustainability initiatives.