The science of sustainability is now better understood, but how to use it isn’t always as clear.
At the We Don’t Have Time STHLM +50 Climate Hub earlier this year, Richard Blume, chief catalyst at The Sustainability Collaborative, The Natural Step’s Nordic office, spoke about how to operationalize sustainability.
“If we can learn to remove structural obstacles to health, then we can turn them into a set of boundary conditions through which organizations can imagine themselves in a sustainable future”, says Richard Blume.
The how-to is laid out for any organization in a method called “the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development” (FSSD), which has been pioneered by The Natural Step together with scientists and decision-makers over the last few decades.
“Our approach is to work with science-based principles addressing the root causes of un-sustainability,” said Richard, “The connection between the planetary boundaries and these principles is critical. Decision-makers need to not only understand what the science is saying about tipping points but also how to translate that knowledge into solutions. That’s where sustainability principles help.”
“Our focus is to package the science into practical tools with a clear and simple pedagogy that can help decision-makers to understand the fundamentals of natural and social systems,” he explained.
“There are two basic systems that we need to respect. First, we know that humanity is dependent upon a healthy society; we need each other, and we need to have this social system operating to meet our needs. Secondly, we also need a healthy planet with functioning ecosystems to sustain the web of life we depend upon.”
The FSSD methodology is a way to ensure that organizations can design solutions where nature and our fundamental human needs are protected. With a clear focus on eliminating our contribution to key mechanisms causing today’s problems, then sustainability can become a reality, step by step.
“The research shows there are three key mechanisms through which the natural world is being undermined,” said Richard.
These are: materials from the Earth’s crust are systematically increasing in concentrations in the biosphere, substances produced by society —both synthetic and naturally occurring—are also systematically increasing in concentration in the biosphere; and nature is being physically degraded in a way that is systematically increasing. Simply put, we must stop these three things from continuing in order to become ecologically sustainable.
Similarly, there are five obstacles to societal health that must be addressed.
“If we can learn to remove structural obstacles to health, our ability to have influence over the systems we’re part of, our ability to learn and grow and develop, the equal treatment of people, and the pursuit of common meaning, then we can turn them into a set of boundary conditions through which organizations can imagine themselves in a sustainable future,” said Richard.
Through envisioning a world in which these eight principles of ecological and societal sustainability are true—with the specific obstacles removed—we are envisioning a sustainable world.
When that vision is clarified, through an operational process known as ‘backcasting’ we can assess the gap between the vision and where we are today. Then come the ideas of how to close that gap, with chosen actions being prioritized along the way.
“We can use the sustainability principles to tell us if we are truly moving in the right direction and whether we’re creating ideas that we can build on and continue to develop,” said Richard. “And finally, we can look at the business case for each action.”
Watch Richard’s presentation below, including a look at how several organisations around the world are operationalizing sustainability through the FSSD model.
Great. Africa has the solutions and we need finance
Unfortunately much of the anti science is among environmental and political parties in both directions.
This I strongly believe in!
Great presentation Richard Blume