The Natural Step Story: Seeding A Quiet
by Karl-Henrik Robèrt
This outstanding story is a first person account of how cancer scientist
Karl-Henrik Robèrt founded The Natural Step. In it he describes
the influences behind his ideas and the evolution of his thinking.
Although it does detail the system conditions of The Natural Step
and how it was adopted by IKEA, McDonalds and Interface, the
real interest lies in the story itself. Its not so much the
system that is enlightening as it is the incredible legwork, the
perseverance and timely good fortune that went into its creation.
Written in a very humble yet enthusiastic voice, this is a compelling
story of how the author manages to work through doubts, lack of
resources and opposition in his quest to devise a scientifically-based
system that could transform modern society to sustainability. He
accomplished the amazing task of getting scientists to agree on
the four basic mechanisms by which our society damages nature. These
four system conditions that are required for true sustainability
are: the understanding that natures resources are finite;
that nature cannot continue to absorb all the synthetic substances
produced by man; that nature cannot tolerate man-made physical degradation;
and finally that human needs have to be met worldwide.
It is these ideas and his process to get everyone to agree as to
how we should live with nature, conduct our business and govern
ourselves that holds such great promise for the future. All during
his implementation process he attempts to diffuse disagreement and
contentiousness and focus on common ground to get generally adversarial
opponents to agree and move forward with positive results. The author
suggests that he is not a politician, but perhaps he is one of the
greatest due to his consensus building skills.
The appendices of this book are extremely useful because they detail
the philosophy, goals, objectives, core values and process of The
Natural Step. One of the appendices is an example of two Swedish
agriculture organizations that use The Natural Step to gain a collective
long-range perspective. This is important reading for anyone remotely
interested in the environmentor for anyone who likes a good
story about the inner workings of how great things are accomplished
through the efforts of one man.
The Natural Step Story:
Seeding A Quiet Revolution © 2002
New Society Publishers, 288 pages
Edited by Thomas Pricen, Michael Maniates and Ken Conca
This book addresses the dark nemesis of the environmental movement
whose name has been unspeakable until now. Confronting Consumption,
edited by Thomas Pricen, Michael Maniates and Ken Conca, tackles
the issue of consumption head on with eye opening results.
Throughout their work leading up to this book, the authors were
struck by the consistent resistance encountered in trying to bring
consumption-related concerns to the environmental debate. Consumption
is such a deeply-ingrained belief in all of our social and political
institutions that it has been sacrosanct and beyond scrutiny. Western
societys answer to any problem is more production. As the
authors state, Goods are good and more goods are better.
As they demonstrate in a series of essays, satisfaction and sustainability
cannot be achieved by buying more products even if they are proper
The sustainable development lens through which the environmental
debate has been framed filters any political or sociological analysis
of consumption. Michael Maniates go so far as to label it the
metaphorical AIDS of the environmental movement because it
has so seriously compromised the movements ability to recognize
and respond to the essential threat that consumption represents
to the environment. The topic of consumption has always been avoided
because of its implications to the idea of consumer sovereignty,
and to the idea of the economy, which at its foundation is wholly
based on consumption.
The authors are to be commended for breaking the code of silence
surrounding consumption and engaging the debate. This could be the
opening salvo in what promises to be a very animated confrontation.
Everyone with concern for the environment from government, NGOs,
academia, corporations and the design professions should read this
book because the issue has grave importance for us all as it influences
everything we do in our jobs and how we live our lives. In the end,
however, they state that individual action wont make the differenceonly
political action on a wide scale will do when confronting consumption.
Confronting Consumption © 2002
The MIT Press, 392 pages
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking
the Way We Make Things
By William McDonough and Michael Braungart
This book is not a tree, says the introduction, and indeed
it is not. The entire book, cover and pages, is printed on a plastic
polymer that can be recycled into new books indefinitely while maintaining
its high quality. More importantly, it is an example of what the authors
William McDonough and Michael Braungart are advocating in their revolutionary
vision to redesign our constructed world. This is a short, not very
detailed overview of an environmental solution that is both inspirational
and simple, and it is one of the more important concepts published
recently in the growing environmental category.
It is a design manifesto to save the biosphere. The popular environmental
slogan of the last centuryReduce, Reuse and Recycleis
no longer useful as a strategy. Being eco-efficient is no longer viable;
rather eco-effectiveness is what we should be striving for in any
development. Our present system of design needs to be changed. Instead
of wasting nearly all of the raw materials that go into a product
design, we should be cognizant of what Braungart calls the biological
and technical nutrients that comprise the manufacture of any new product.
If we plan what goes into a product, we dont have to be concerned
with how to dispose of it or how to protect ourselves from its toxicity
later when it is no longer useful.
McDonough and Braungart want to eliminate the cradle to grave syndrome
that everything in our society suffers from presently, and replace
it with a cradle-to-cradle system. Just like in the natural world
where nothing goes to waste, every component is useful as a nutrient
for something else. The authors call for a second Industrial Revolution
to redesign everything in this manner, but if the Industrial Revolution
gave us the current set of problems why, even in name only, would
we want a second one? McDonough utilizes language quite effectively,
and this book is filled with a very descriptive nomenclature to describe
various elements of the concept. We need more of this kind of informed
terminology to help begin the transition toward a new, wiser design
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way
We Make Things © 2002
North Point Press, 193 pages
These books have been reviewed by Richard Walthers (firstname.lastname@example.org),
founder of PRAIRIE Fish, a Chicago, IL-based consulting firm dedicated
to design and sustainability issues.