A-B-C-D process of the Natural Step Framework

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

A-B-C-D process
Countries and institutions are committed to promoting sustainable development. One of the tools used is the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development also regarded as the Natural Step framework.
The A-B-C-D method to applying the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development consists of four steps which are repeated as an organisation progresses toward sustainability
A – Awareness raising and visioning
Aligns the organization around a common understanding of sustainability and identifies a ‘whole-systems’ context for that organization; building a common language around sustainability as well as creating a vision of what that organization would look like in a sustainable future. Participants review details of the state of the earth’s systems, including the ecological, social and economic trends that are undermining our ability to create and manage healthy and prosperous ecosystems, businesses and communities. During the visioning process, people are encouraged to set ambitious goals which may require radical changes in how the organization operates. Some goals may take many years to achieve.
This is where businesses often begin to identify the service they provide independent of any one product (for example, providing education services). Incorporating this awareness into the visioning process unleashes innovation and releases the company from preconceived limitations.
B- Baseline Mapping
This step uses the four sustainability principles to conduct a sustainability ‘gap analysis’ of the major flows and impacts of the organisation to see how its activities are running counter to sustainability principles. The analysis includes an evaluation of products and services, energy, capital and human resources from ‘cradle to cradle’. The assessment also looks at the social context and organisational culture in order to understand how to positively introduce change. This allows the organisation to identify critical sustainability issues, their business implications, any assets they may have and opportunities for change.
C- Creative Solutions
In this step, people are asked to brainstorm potential solutions to the issues highlighted in the baseline analysis without any constraints. Armed with their vision of success and potential actions, organisations look backwards from the vision to develop strategies toward sustainability. This is called backcasting and it prevents people from developing strategies that just solve the problems of today. Instead, they begin with the end in mind, moving towards a shared vision of sustainability, with each action providing a platform for further improvement.
D- Decide on Priorities
After identifying the opportunities and potential solutions in the ‘C’ step, the group prioritises the measures that move the organisation toward sustainability fastest, while optimising flexibility as well as maximising social, ecological and economic returns. This step supports effective, step-by-step implementation and action planning. At this stage, organisations can pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – actions that are fairly easy to implement and offer a rapid return on investment in order to build internal support and excitement for the planning process.
Backcasting is used to continually assess decisions and actions to see whether they are moving the organisation toward the desired outcome identified in ‘A’ step (awareness and visioning)
Organisations are not expected to achieve long-term goals immediately. They’re encouraged to move systematically by making investments that will provide benefits in the short-term, while also retaining a long-term perspective.
Applying the ABCD method. Downloaded at on 7th September 2015

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