An assessment of The Natural Step theory of sustainability

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The Natural Step (TNS) is a sustainability theory internationally promoted as a scientific framework for environmental management. Although the educational value of TNS is acknowledged, TNS theory includes implicit reasoning and value judgement as well as science. TNS implies zero growth in the physical scale of economies and companies, without stating this explicitly. TNS is rhetorical in its use of risk assessment, emphasizing a rise-in-concentration criterion for the sake of consensual argument, in the knowledge that it is inadequate for environmental protection. TNS has profound and valuable implications for contemporary economies, but users should be aware that TNS is primarily designed as a persuasive argument, and is not wholly science based.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)445-454
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2000
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Doctoral research from which this paper is drawn was conducted at CSSSP (Centre for Science Studies and Science Policy), University of Lancaster, and at PREST (Policy Research in Engineering Science and Technology) at the University of Manchester. It was financially supported by a Collaborative Award in Science and Engineering from the National Centre for Business and Ecology (NCBE), Salford, and by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (grant no. S00429637069). Many thanks to co-operating companies, to John Holmberg of Chalmers University of Technology and Göteborg University and Karl Henrik Robèrt of Det Naturligasteget for responding to queries, to Denis Loveridge of PREST, Steve Martin at The Natural Step UK, Brian Natrass, Mary Parkinson of NCBE and to the reviewers. None of the above persons, nor any TNS organisation, are necessarily in agreement with the content of the paper.