I have a couple (just a couple) of environmental pet peeves. By “pet peeves” I mean things that I see that assume that natural resources are unlimited, because, really, that’s the way we’ve all been brought up.
- I play tennis on clay courts. Great for the knees, but the courts need to be watered every few hours every single day and we use city tap water to water the courts.
- When I drive up highway 400 on to visit my parents in Collingwood I start hyperventilating every time I see a new sign on some farmland that says: “for sale: design/build.” I also hate that I can’t take the train.
- When I’m in Collingwood I shake my head at the over-development that goes on up there. Horse farms have become home developments, Highway 26 is congested all the time, and large tracts of forest are disappearing to make way for more condos.
- I hate non-recyclable plastic toys in kids meals at fast food chains. Kids play with them for a nanosecond before they lose interest so they end up in the garbage (My kids had a bunch of them when they were little. I felt like dropping a garbage bag full of these toys on the front step of McDonald’s and saying “you created this problem, now deal with it!”)
These are just a few of the many things that I see that are, in the long-run, unsustainable practices. Despite the assumption that was made up until say, 50 years ago, natural resources are finite — even the renewable ones if they’re not managed properly. Change is difficult and sometimes the task is so daunting — like changing the way business is done, or communities are developed — that leaders might not know where to start.
A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to an event at The Toronto French School for an organization called The Natural Step (TNS). I admit that I didn’t know a lot about this group other than they were an environmental organization. After hearing their founder speak, and doing some more extensive research on the organization I can declare, “Eureka! Here is the answer to my environmental pet peeves!”
The Natural Step was created by Dr Karl-Henrick Robèrt, an oncologist based in Sweden. In his medical practice he was seeing an increasing number of young cancer patients and given their ages and/or family history, he believed their illness couldn’t be due to genetics alone. He concluded that there had to be an environmental component as well. But instead of shrugging it off, he created a solution in The Natural Step “to promote a unifying framework for social and ecological sustainability based on a scientific consensus.” After testing, refining and implementing the framework (mostly in Canada), TNS now has a presence in 18 countries, helping municipalities and businesses achieve their sustainability goals. To give you some idea of who they work with, Interface, perhaps the most environmentally progressive carpet company in the world is one of their clients; so are Nike, IKEA, and the municipalities of Whistler, BC and Canmore, AB.
Ken Melamed, the mayor of Whistler, also attended the event and spoke about working with TNS to accomplish a vision of operating one of the most sustainable municipalities in North America. The most challenging task for Whistler of course was that they had a little thing called the Winter Olympics going on earlier this year. During the design and planning process the committee took into account future goals of the city. The town has been working on this sustainability plan since 2000. Their priorities were conserving and protecting their spectacular natural environment while providing an excellent tourist destination, affordable housing for residents, and lessening their reliance on traditional energy supplies. The town has already been recognized worldwide for their efforts through awards, including the United Nations sponsored Liveable Communities gold medal for ‘planning for the future’. It continues to monitor its progress with annual meetings with all organizations involved. You can see how they’re progressing by visiting their website: Whistler 2020.
All of Whistler’s objectives have been created through the Natural Step’s Framework. The Five Step Framework works within any organization, individual or business to help achieve sustainability goals. One of the documents on the TNS website is a Primer Guidebook on Sustainability (available here). It describes why we’re living unsustainably and more importantly that there are solutions to help us fix things. In order to fix unsustainable practices, there are five levels within the framework: Systems, Success, Strategies, Actions, and Tools. Like any good Canadian guide, the book uses hockey to demonstrate how the system is applied.
At the systems level, you have to understand the rules of the
game in order to play. At the success level, your team has
a shared understanding of success: scoring more goals that
the other team (and having fun!). You can use many different
strategies to win, including building up a strong defense or
passing in a certain formation. You then take concrete actions
to achieve success – hopefully by scoring a goal. Some of the
tools you might use include training programs to get you in
shape, coaching advice to build your skills, or a high-tech pair
The Natural Step not only provides coaching and help for businesses and municipalities, it also provides education opportunities at graduate level. The University of Western Ontario which offers a Masters degree in Environment and Sustainability. There are other courses run by the Natural Step as well. See their webpage for more information.
This is a great organization to help any business or municipality to identify needs and actions to start working towards sustainable practices in the future.