Utah Workshop Advocates Eco-Friendly Businesses

Many businesses struggle to make even the smallest advances in recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation or other environmental initiatives.

Nov. 5—LOGAN, Utah — Many businesses struggle to make even the smallest advances in recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation or other environmental initiatives.

A blue recycling tub next to the copy machine may be a company's only measurable environmental success.

But business managers often don't see the forest for the trees. Today's green-business experts say companies need to implement a holistic approach to sustainability — an environmental management system that addresses every aspect of the business's practices, not just one piece.

At a recent workshop, Utah State University professor Lynne Goodhart discussed an approach that has seen international success but is not well known in Utah. The Natural Step framework provides a methodology and resources that can help businesses drastically reduce their environmental impacts.

"It means we can do the right thing and still profit from it, 1/8without feeling like3/8 we are depriving ourselves," says Goodhart, who teaches a course about The Natural Step. "It means hope for our children's future."

As part of the national Bioneers conference, which was based in San Rafael, Calif. with satellite events around the country, Goodhart and four of her students laid out The Natural Step basics.

First, a business has to recognize the environment's threatened state and its own dependence on the natural world. Implicit in this recognition is that protecting the environment is in a company's best interest, because all resources originate with Earth.

Second, a business learns the definition of a sustainable society, which is generally described as being able to meet the present population's needs without compromising the needs of future generations.

The Natural Step lays out four conditions that must be in place to achieve sustainability: (1) materials from the earth's crust, such as fossil fuels and metals, and (2) human-made materials, such as plastics, must not systematically increase in nature; (3) the environment must not be degraded by physical means, such as deforestation or soil erosion; and (4) human needs, including food, water and clean air, must be met worldwide.

Third, a company's leaders use visioning techniques to outline what a sustainable version of their company would look like. This sets a goal of sustainable practices.

Finally, the company uses "back-casting," to step back from its goal and identify strategies needed to reach sustainability. The company then educates its employees about the new program.

This method has been used by large corporations such as Ikea, McDonald's Sweden, Nike, Bank of America, Starbucks and Home Depot. Nike now manufactures its shoe boxes to be 10 percent lighter, saving 4,000 tons of raw materials and $1.6 million annually, and McDonald's Sweden runs 75 percent of its stores on renewable energy, according to The Natural Step.

A nonprofit organization, The Natural Step was created in 1989 by Karl-Henrik Robért, a Swedish oncologist who worried about the health impacts of environmental degradation. The group provides business consulting services and has reference materials online at http://www.naturalstep.org.

The Natural Step has offices in San Francisco, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Britain.

—Web site: Visit http://www.naturalstep.org
—Books: "The Natural Step for Business" by Brian Nattrass and Mary Altomare (New Society Publishers, $16.95) "Ants, Galileo, and Gandhi: Designing the Future of Business Through Nature, Genius, and Compassion." Edited by Sissel Waage. (Greenleaf Press, $30)

—Recognize the unsustainable direction of business and society and the benefits of adopting sustainable practices.
—Define sustainability and understand the conditions necessary for a healthy environment.
—Envision what your company would look like if it were sustainable.
—Identify strategic steps through "back-casting" to move the company from its current reality toward its desired vision.
Source: The Natural Step for Business

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