As it Serves the Natural Step Conditions
serves the Natural Step conditions by providing a needed structure for
application of the principles. Oki
Semiconductor Manufacturing demonstrated this by becoming certified to ISO
14001 before adding The Natural Step's principles to provide a shared
mental model and serve as a compass to guide decisions toward
WORDS/PHRASES: Environmental management systems
is widely accepted that mankind's current interaction with nature cannot
be sustained. Nature's productive ability is declining, pollution is
increasing, and population is growing by 90 million people each year.
The potential for our grandchildren to live good lives is
Natural Step is a concept and an organization that was started in Sweden
by Dr. Karl-Henrik Robért, a leading pediatric cancer researcher.
Dr. Robért recognized that the cancers with which he was dealing
weren't due to the children's life choices and that there were limits
within which a living cell will properly function.
He engaged fifty of Sweden's leading scientists to define a set of
basic environmental principles on which everyone could agree.
After twenty-one drafts, the four scientifically-based Natural Step
system conditions for sustainability were established.
a systems view, the conditions recognize that in nature everything is
contained and recycled without waste.
Indeed, each “waste” is food for
something else. This cyclical
system has operated for billions of years.
Unfortunately, this is not the way our society operates.
Our current system is linear, transforming materials and resources
into hazardous and non-hazardous waste that is building up in nature. We
must find ways to fulfill the equation “waste = food” within our
industrial and societal systems.
The four Natural Step system conditions are:
In addition to
these system conditions, The Natural Step includes other concepts that are
useful. They include backcasting,
a process which consists of framing goals with regard to a future desired
outcome, and determining short-term decisions and investments needed to
achieve that future; systems thinking, understanding and respecting
the overall principles of a system; and step-by-step implementation
of strategy. It recognizes
that if people are trained and given the opportunity they will be able to
begin taking first steps by picking "low hanging fruit."
can be used to map out a series of steps that will eventually lead to
sustainability. It serves as
a guide to decision making, it is not prescriptive, and does not judge.
It comes without the burden of requiring
adopters to implement a specific structure, but without a certain
amount of structure it is difficult to implement successfully
was introduced to The Natural Step during the same month that our company
was being certified to the ISO 14001 standard.
I could recognize the system conditions as valuable and important,
but we had previously had a kick-off meeting presentation that was very
effective in mobilizing the workforce.
We had been effectively working step-by-step on "low hanging
fruit" for a year or more. This resulted in a six-month headache. I knew there was value in the use of The Natural Step, but I
didn't have a clear vision of how to apply the conditions to obtain that
ISO 14000 is an
international series of standards that define the required elements of an
effective environmental management system (EMS).
In addition to the ISO 14001, the standard for an EMS, the
standards cover auditing, labeling, environmental performance evaluation,
life-cycle assessment and environmental aspects in product standards.
The ISO 14001 standard requires a series of major steps beginning with the establishment of an environmental policy, planning, implementation and operation, checking and corrective action and management reviews. At each management review the entire system, from the environmental policy on, is analyzed for its effectiveness, creating a cyclical system of continuous improvement. The major steps are:
Similar to ISO 9000, the standard is very specific as indicated by its use of language such as "shall establish and maintain a procedure to…" to express clearly the requirements of each element. The result is a very structured stable system that effectively manages not only environmental issues, but also the system itself.
when a company starts using The Natural Step, it will prepare an
environmental policy, train all people on the system conditions and study
its environmental impacts in light of the conditions and begin to try to
improve. Ideally it will also
use backcasting to develop a long-range vision and implementation plans
and establish appropriate indicators and metrics.
When these steps are completed, implementation of a sustainability
strategy can begin.
system conditions help people make better decisions when they are used;
but without a solid process to systematize the application of the
conditions, it is very likely to be haphazard.
Too often, when a company goes through the above steps, a year or
two later it will find that the initial momentum was lost and that it was
just another "management game of the month" to the company's
employees. This outcome is
14001 TO THE RESCUE
meetings with key people in our organization, it started to become clear
that what The Natural Step needed to be used effectively was a structure
within which to apply it and that ISO 14001 was exactly that structure.
Indeed if a company didn't have an ISO 14001 or similar
environmental management system in place it would need to create one to
achieve the best long-term results.
The ISO 14001
continuous improvement cycle of policy, planning, implementation and
operation, checking and corrective action, and management review provides
the framework for a thorough, lasting Natural Step application.
The structure serves to ensure the effectiveness of the application
of the system conditions. Specific areas where ISO 14001 serves the
Natural Step system conditions can be identified by an analysis of the ISO
14001 requirements. Some of
these areas are:
Policy: ISO 14001's requirement for an environmental policy sets the
stage to include the Natural Step in the policy, either by direct
reference to the system conditions or by reference to a goal of
sustainability. This helps
bring awareness of the conditions to all readers, both inside and outside
Aspects: The ISO 14001 requirement to do an aspects and impacts
analysis is an ideal framework to systematize the application of the
systems conditions to the activities, products and services of the
organization. A set of questions for each system condition can be used to
establish a uniform ranking criteria that will help better identify the
most significant aspects.
Other: Identification of the Natural Step system conditions as an
"other" requirement that the organization will follow will
cement the commitment to the use of the conditions and will also lead the
auditors to check on their use thereby further ensuring their
and Targets: The ISO 14001 requirement to establish objectives and
targets creates an excellent opportunity to apply the conditions.
Checklists can be created to analyze potential improvements to
processes or products with respect to the system conditions before
implementation. The use of
checklists ensures continuous uniform application of the conditions.
Awareness and Competence: One of the greatest values of The Natural
Step is its shared mental model of the situation and the path to
improvement. ISO 14001's
requirement to train all people on the environmental policy and to be
aware of the consequences of their actions sets the perfect opportunity to
formalize the exposure of all employees to The Natural Step.
ISO 14001's requirement to establish a preplanned, structured
communication system prepares the way to effectively apply The Natural
Step conditions. Internal and
external communications plans can be made that will help generate and
maintain interest in TNS activities within the company and effectively
communicate Natural Step activities and successes to the public.
A very valuable element of ISO 14001 is its requirement to identify
records to be retained to show the effectiveness of the management system.
Checksheets that are designed to be used at decision points such as
aspects and impacts analysis and new process and product decision meetings
can systematize the application of the system conditions.
These checklists can be retained as records to help ensure and
become part of the proof of continuous improvement.
In my opinion, the auditing requirement of ISO 14001 is valuable
because it requires the identification of criteria that can allow the
determination of the effectiveness of the system.
When The Natural Step is identified as an "Other"
requirement, criteria must be identified that can establish its
Review: When The Natural Step is identified as an "other"
requirement, ISO 14001's management review requirement will regularly
bring the effectiveness and continuing suitability of application of the
Natural Step to management's attention.
This review process will lead to continuous awareness of progress
and provide routine opportunities to make improvements.
These points show that ISO 14001 serves as a framework or structure that will not only enable the application of the system conditions, but will also ensure their long-term effectiveness. Even if a company doesn't have a need for an ISO 14001 environmental management system, if it wants to have a continuously effective application of The Natural Step it should develop a "TNS" management system. This system would ideally have all of the elements of an ISO 14001 EMS except operational control, emergency preparedness and response and EMS audits. The rest of the requirements will all serve The Natural Step conditions very well
Semiconductor Manufacturing, we started with ISO 14001 and then added the
use of The Natural Step conditions into the existing structure.
It was convenient to have the structure in place at the time of the
integration of The Natural Step, but I feel strongly that it is best to do
The use of The
Natural Step combined with the involvement of all employees was an
enormous source of energy and ideas for improvements. The understanding of
The Natural Step's system conditions for living sustainably with the
environment further cemented the commitment of all employees. The existing suggestion and quality circle team systems
became avenues through which the majority of employees became active in
helping find additional improvements.
in their company resulted in very high morale. This came especially clear when the plant was closed in 1998
by the parent company. There
was no vandalism and many people expressed their positive feelings about
having been able to have worked for a company that cares about the
environment. An unmeasured benefit is that in 1998 before the plant was
closed it was running far ahead of budget by nearly reaching its annual
profit goal in the first five months of the year.
Improved teamwork and morale is credited with the excellent
I have been
discussing the how ISO 14001 serves The Natural Step conditions.
It should be pointed out that The Natural Step also serves ISO
14001 by enhancing employee training, and better informed decisions
regarding aspects and impacts and processes, products and services.
As an example,
before we included The Natural Step in our ISO 14001 EMS, through an
objective and target, we replaced one industrially acceptable chemical
with another and reduced the usage from 32,000 lbs. per year to 575 lbs.
In addition, the resulting hazardous waste was reduced by 57,000
lbs. and had a savings of about $60,000.
We thought that we had a perfect example of "beginning of the
pipe" improvement. After
learning about The Natural Step and applying its conditions we realized
that the new chemical, even in small amounts, might have been more
hazardous and persistent in the environment than the original one. A later
check confirmed that this was not the case, but we hadn't even asked the
question because they were both readily available industrial chemicals.
structure nor all principle is ideal.
ISO 14001's structure is an excellent framework for the effective
application of The Natural Step principles and the principles help improve
training and decisions made within an ISO 14001 EMS. They serve each other very well.
Indeed, ISO 14001 is often referred to as a sailboat, carefully
constructed with a strong hull, shrouds, sheets and sails that is capable
of taking an organization to improved environmental performance, while The
Natural Step is referred to as a compass to help guide the boat to the
sustainable future we all wish for our grandchildren.