The Natural Step

We support use of the Natural Step model as a framework to achieve sustainable lifestyles.  This framework was adopted by the City and County of La Crosse in 2007.  In 2009, both the County Board and the City Council adopted sustainability master plans that will help our local governments and communities start implementing this framework.  Other municipalities in Wisconsin have also recently adopted the Natural Step framework.  Click here for a list.

The Natural Step framework includes these four basic objectives:

  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuels, metals, and minerals.
  • Reduce production of manufactured substances that accumulate in nature.
  • Reduce encroachment upon nature.
  • Meet human needs fairly and efficiently.

Though various explanations of “sustainability” have been proposed, the Natural Step approach seems particularly well-suited for communities of people (municipalities, organizations, businesses, churches, etc.) to follow.  This approach was first proposed in Sweden in the late 1980s and was subsequently adopted by many municipalities in that country.


One of the most signifiant aspects of the Natural Step approach is that it encourages the use of “backcasting“as people engage in making plans for their communities.  A common approach commonly used in planning is to simply extrapolate current trends into the future and plan accordingly.  For example,  if car traffic in a transportation corridor has doubled in the past 20 years, planners commonly assumed that traffic will continue to double and to then plan massively expanded road projects.  It is becoming increasingly obvious, that expanded use of resources is simply not sustainable.

With backcasting, a community envisions where it would like to be in 20 years (for example, it may desire minimal growth in highway infrastructure) and to then make plans to achieve this goal — to work back to the present, so to speak.

More Information

  • Natural Step references (link to be added)