The natural step

Richard Karash (
Mon, 28 Nov 1994 23:11:38 +0001 (EST)

Here's Jeff McLean's message to the group about the Natural Step. I've
added a brief reply, but I also would like to learn more about this. Can
anyone provide references?

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 94 11:35:04 ADS
Subject: re: The natural step

Dear Learning Organisation Network

While in the US recently I was introduced (albeit briefly) to the concept of
the Natural Step developed by a Swedish cancer researcher.
This is a strategy for developing & maintaining a sustainable world system.

I would like to find out more.
Can anyone help with reference sources, addresses etc.

I believe that the researchers name is Claude Michele Robbert.

many thanks in anticipation.

Also would like to make phone contact with any Australian members of the

Jeff Mclean
Director: Australian Systems Thinking & Organisational Learning Group
c/o Syme Department of Management
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia
Ph: 61 3 903 2608
fax: 61 3 903 2718

P.O. Box 197
caulfield east, Victoria, 3145, Australia


A reply by Rick Karash <>:

Peter Senge talked about the Natural Step at the Systems Thinking in
Action Conf, San Francisco, 11/16/94.

Here's the story that Peter told (from my notes; this is *not* an
accurate quote of what Senge said):

----- Start of Karash's approx quote of Senge's speech -----
Story from Sweeden which is about, "Can we develop sustainable societies."
Cancer researcher Carl-Henrik Robert. He was dissatisfied with the
debates in public about environmental issues, e.g. Global warming, that
seemed to go nowhere.

Carl-Henrik asked why it was that scientific debates seemed to immobilize
our ability to take action, instead of promote action.

He drew up a list of basic facts about how systems worked, things that he
thought scientists could agree on. Sent out and asked for their advice,
"Please correct my letter." 21 iterations later, 20 scientists had a list
they all agreed upon. Set of most basic knowledge about the way our
natural systems work. For example, nature works in cycles. There is no
waste in nature. And similar basic principles.

They identified four systems principles in nature.

Then, they got the 10 largest Swedish companiess together. "We've never
heard scientists agree like this -- there must be something to this!"
They went to the King, 20 scientists and 10 leading corporations.
Sometimes it's nice to have a King. The King said, "All sweedes must know
this!" and printed 4 million copies of the book. It's in all the schools.
In homes. Everywhere.

Society is developing critical mass, the critical infrastructure. Framing
four system conditions for sustainable society.

Our present unsustainable society -- We draw-off limited deposits and
some renewable. Primarily through energy from deposits. And we release
visible garbage and invisible molecular garbage.

A sustainable society would be different.

Sustainable economy cyclic processing of materials. For example, a car
where every single part would go back into another car. It's not
impossible. Who will pay for it? It's not that different from Kennedy's
man on moon goal. Integral part of natural cycles. Measured withdrawals
of limited deposits, same rate as returns.

Four system conditions. These four system conditions are now into the
infrastructure. You have kids drawing pictures.

Questions to ask about a proposed action:
Does the action reduce the use of fundamental mineral resources? Or
increase their use?
Does it reduce the use of long-lived synthetic materials, the stuff that
truly is waste?
Does it preserve the natural diversity of natural
ecologic cycles.
Does it reduce the consumption of energy and natrual resources.

Robert then started different groups. <profession>s for the environment.
Went to different professional consitituencies, asked, "would you like to
help with this?" Informal networks. This idea organized them.
Carl-Heinrik at MIT: "if you want a large number of people to work togher,
they must share an image of the system of which they are a part."

This can catalyze the self organizing aspect of human systems.
-----End of Karash's approx quote of Senge speech-------

Senge showed wonderful, touching drawings by Swedish 8 yr olds, depicting
the cycles of a sustainable society. They were much more compelling than
the "official" diagrams.

And, from Paul Hawken, _The Ecology of Commerce_

"One of Sweden's leading cancer researchers addresses the problems of
man-made toxins at the cellular level. Dr. Karl-Henrick Robert has been
educating Swedish citizens and leaders for many years by creating
consensus on the root cause of environmental damage. His process, called
the Natural Step, begins with cellular biology...

"Robert uses the Natural Step to ask systemic questions that... elicit
surprisingly consensual agreement, from Greenpeace and unions to industry
and religion. For example, in the case of dioxin or any persistent toxin,
Robert believes there are six questions to be asked:
Is dioxin natural? No.
Is dioxin stable? Yes.
Does it degrade into harmless substances? No.
Does it accumulate in bodily tissues? Yes.
Is it possible to predict the
acceptable tolerances? No.
Can we continue to place dioxin into the environment? No, not if we want
to survive."

Based on this, I'm interested in learning more about The Natural Step!

Richard Karash ("Rick") | (o) 508-879-8301 | Mac * Flying
Innovation Associates, Inc. | (fax) 508-626-2205 | Systems Thinking
3 Speen St, Framingham MA 01701 | | Std Disclaimer.