The Next Natural Step - A Message from the Executive Director

Spring has finally arrived here in Canada’s capital region. It’s a good time for new beginnings, and I’m pleased to officially launch The Natural Step Canada’s next phase.

This newsletter profiles many new initiatives at The Natural Step Canada as well as changes to our business model. It outlines a number of new ways for individuals and organizations to engage with us to help accelerate the transition to a sustainable society. These are the culmination of a long period of reflection and deliberation by our Board, Staff, Associates and other supporters over the year and half leading up to our 10th anniversary in Canada in 2013. We’ve thought a great deal about how best to leverage our organization’s strengths in service of our mission and how to scale up our impact. We have appreciated the input and assistance of many partners in that process.

We invite you to join us in accelerating change, together.

It’s Systems That Ultimately Need to Change

Over the past 10 years, The Natural Step has built a solid track record in Canada supporting the emergence of role models for sustainable communities and business. We have done this by working predominantly one organization, one community, one individual at a time. We have worked with dozens of organizations to help them embed sustainability into their strategies, operations, products, services and community plans. We have fostered commitment and competence in hundreds of leaders and practitioners through our learning programs. We are proud of what we and our partners have achieved and the recognition they have received for their leadership and accomplishments.

It is clear, though, that working one organization at a time won’t accelerate change at the speed—or on the scale—we need in order to build a society that is sustainable and resilient.

Leading organizations recognize that even if they do everything ‘right’ – adopt best practices and bring their footprint down to essentially zero - they will still be exposed to massive risk if others don’t join them on the sustainability journey. No single organization, however innovative or powerful, can chart this course alone. As a result, there is a growing call among leaders for multi‐stakeholder collaboration.

Both the business and non-profit sectors are experimenting with new approaches. In the business world, concepts like ‘breakthrough capitalism’, ‘shared value’, and ‘benefit corporations’ are taking hold, inviting companies to redefine their purpose to generate economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges. These efforts require different forms of organization and new types of relationships.

In the non-profit world, the concept is similar - organizations are recognizing that isolated approaches to tackling systemic challenges are not working. Experiments with deep collaboration toward collective impact are showing promise – groups of stakeholders coming together to develop a shared understanding of the system that they’re trying to influence, identifying leverage points for change, and redirecting their resources to work on complementary pieces of the puzzle.

The need to address our collective sustainability crisis is becoming more urgent every day. Systems ‐level collaboration is the only way that we will overcome the complex and interconnected social, environmental, and economic challenges we face.

The Natural Step’s Role in Systems Change

We believe that The Natural Step Canada is uniquely positioned to leverage our experience in the service of systems‐level change. We intend to make use of the capabilities and relationships we have developed to provide leadership for collective impact on sustainability issues. Doing so is both urgently needed and the logical next step in realizing our theory of change.

Our 2013-2017 Strategic Plan summarizes our intentions.

Highlights include:

  • Placing a primary focus on supporting multi‐stakeholder collaborative projects, including the launch of a new program called the Sustainability Transition Lab
  • Initiating a collaborative project, Towards a Gold-standard for Sustainable Business, that aims to help accelerate the sustainable business movement by advancing practices in the field of sustainable business rating and ranking;
  • Developing a new partnership‐based model for the delivery of our Level 1 course to encourage much broader participation and support local and regional non-profit organizations
  • Developing a national sustainability literacy campaign in conjunction with other interested parties; and
  • Building a thriving network of Natural Step Associates that will be the main conduit for advisory services to client organizations.

We are honoured to have the support of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the Suncor Energy Foundation, and others as we embark on this next phase of our journey. We are also grateful to the Catherine Donnelly Foundation for the grant provided in 2011 and 2012 to support the development of the Sustainability Transition Lab. The Catherine Donnelly Foundation’s funding allowed us the rare luxury to step outside of our existing programs and business model to think hard about how to scale up our impact. We are ever grateful for their belief in our potential.

As we launch a call for Expressions of Interest for The Sustainability Transition Lab, we are also acutely aware of the many groups rapidly developing expertise in the social innovation and collaboration fields. We admire their leadership and are proud to have many of these leaders represented on the Advisory Council of the Sustainability Transition Lab so that we may benefit from their wisdom and experience. We’re also pleased that so many of them will be joining us at the Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability conference on June 10th and 11th in Guelph.

Our hypothesis is that “backcasting from sustainability principles” is relevant in this context and that blending The Natural Step’s experience with the best of what others have learned about multi-stakeholder collaboration will lead to new possibilities and breakthrough results.

Like many organizations, The Natural Step Canada is all about its people. We are fortunate to have amazing and inspiring people among our Staff, Board, Associates, partners, supporters, ambassadors, international colleagues, and friends. I would like to thank each of you for having contributed so significantly to the first 10 years of The Natural Step in Canada. The challenges ahead are big, but it’s exciting to be working with all of you to build a brighter future.