Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Review: The Natural Step Story: Seeding A Quiet Revolution

Green is so complex, and changes so rapidly, that we have trouble knowing what to do. You’ve read my thoughts on this here, now it’s someone else’s turn to give museums a tool: Dr. Karl-Henrik Robѐrt.

The Natural Step (TNS) Framework, oversimplified, shows us that fixes (like recycling) are treatments for symptoms (waste) not the illness (production of too much waste in the first place). The Framework helps us prevent the illness. Thinking like the ecosystem, and realigning our approaches to living, manufacturing, and consuming, promises to create an improved Quadruple Bottom Line here: People, Planet, Program and Profit, for all.

Dr. Robѐrt’s story of the birth of the TNS Framework is an inspiring book, well-“illustrated” by the author’s commitment to walking the talk. You’re familiar with the saying that “green is a journey, not a destination”; this is a story about a journey well underway. In a world where 30-minutes of TV can show us ‘how it’s made’, or who came the furthest, and who has achieved the most, all in telescoped time, it is very valuable to experience a multi-year journey that reminds us that the process of discovery is valuable, not just the discovery.

The first part of the book describes how Dr. Robѐrt, a Swedish cancer researcher, worked to create the team that developed the TNS Framework. Dr. Robѐrt describes how concepts familiar in his research, and his efforts to involve other scientists in discussions about sustainability, all helped him develop an approach to what he called “sustainable development”. Three ‘aha’ moments lead to developing the TNS Framework:

• He recognized that what is true for cancer cells is true for “an overbuilt landscape”: “in integrated systems of high-level performance, continued physical growth becomes counterproductive to development”

• He recognized that at the time (1989), sustainable practices were more likely to be band-aid approaches to treating symptoms rather than remedies for the true cause – the planet needed a new approach

• He came to understand “…already existing knowledge really was enough to induce substantial change, and that most people only need to be allowed into the dialog to be prepared to act”.

This last point is one reason why the TNS Framework is designed to be universal – so that any one of us could use the Framework to join that dialog and be prepared to act.

The rest of the book describes The TNS Framework’s Four Systems Conditions/Four Core Principles, and provides great case examples from organizations and the personal stories of their leaders. The Systems Conditions/Core Principles are the tools you need to become an effective decision-maker. The Framework also includes valuable communication techniques for moving through sustainability discussions while keeping supporters and detractors engaged. This part is very important for leaders wondering how the heck you can tackle this conundrum in your organization, and for instigators wondering how the heck you can get leaders to tackle the conundrum with you. Don’t worry, its universal design means the TNS framework will fit well with your museum, leaving your mission entirely intact, and poised for strengthening.

Please read the book twice – it’s comfortable to read, and a lot to consider. A second-time through will help you truly understand and internalize these methods. When you need a quick reference, here’s the link to an overview.

I know of two museums that have used the system, Atlanta Botanic Garden and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry case example here.  I am hopeful –  sure – there are others who have. I would like very much to hear from you.

The Natural Step Story: Seeding A Quiet Revolution Dr. Karl-Henrik Robѐrt, New Catalyst Books, British Columbia, CA. 2008

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