Over the last 18 months, the nine firms have taken part in a pilot programme to test the Natural Step approach in the UK. They include leading supermarket chain Sainsbury, roads-to-construction firm Tarmac, chemical firm DuPont Nylon, flooring manufacturer Interface Europe and Yorkshire Water. The Environment Agency of England and Wales also supported the approach today.
Activities already undertaken by the firms include a sustainable housing project run by Tarmac and more general initiatives to improve overall environmental performance.
Speaking at the launch today, Senior Vice-President of Interface Europe, John Partridge, told journalists that The Natural Step had solved the company's "quandary" of how to improve employee understanding and knowledge of the company's goal to become a sustainable enterprise.
Chairman of the UK Natural Step movement, Jonathon Porritt, said: "Of all the business and sustainability initiatives that have been introduced over the last few years, the Natural Step is the most scientifically rigorous and the most relevant to companies and organisations that are now keen to move beyond the basics."
According to its promoters, the Natural Step helps companies to avoid endless debates about the definition of sustainable development and the correct balancing of the "greening versus growth" equation. Instead, says its Swedish founder Karl-Henrik Robèrt, it gives companies a scientific framework to measure the sustainability of their operations and thereby improve it.
The approach is based on the application by firms of four principles developed ten years ago by Swedish scientists, business people and policy-makers. These are: substances derived from the Earth's crust should not be extracted at a rate exceeding their natural redeposition; substances should not be produced at a rate faster than they can be naturally broken down; the "productive surfaces" of nature must not be qualitatively or quantitatively diminished; basic human needs should be met in the most resource-efficient way possible.
Mr Robèrt told ENDS Daily that the approach could provide the missing strategic vision in commonly used environmental management tools, including standards such as ISO 14001 and the EU's EMAS scheme. A slogan adopted by the UK movement is that "ISO and EMAS will tell you how to do things right; they won't tell you how to do the right things."
A Natural Step movement was recently set up in the Netherlands and another is reportedly under development in Germany. It is already well-established in Sweden and in some countries outside Europe.
The Natural Step UK, tel: 01242 26 27 44.
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