A necessary step in the transition to a sustainable path is to shift from problem-solving to creating. Problems are negative things which we would like to eliminate. However, eliminating the problem does not necessarily get us what we want. We often frame problems in such narrow ways that the solutions are not lasting and may create other problems later on or in some other place. The way we have dealt with most environmental issues such as air or water pollution is to view them as discrete problems with solutions which often end up moving pollution around rather than getting to the root of the problem and eliminating it. Creating, on the other hand, is bringing into existence some thing or situation that we want — which is usually a much better motivator for change than a problem we need to eliminate.
Creating a sustainable future demands that we be able to define and understand in a concrete, substantial and just way what sustainability means. The Natural Step (TNS) helps us define the minimal conditions for sustainability which, in turn, act as guiding principles, or a “compass,” for our decision-making. The Natural Step is a nonprofit environmental education organization working to build an ecologically and economically sustainable society. TNS offers a framework that is based on science and serves as a compass for business, communities, academia, government entities, and individuals working to redesign their activities to become more sustainable.
The TNS framework helps individuals and organizations address key environmental issues from a systems perspective. It gives people a common language and guiding principles to help change existing practices and decrease their impact on the environment. The system conditions are used as a shared mental module for problem-solving, for the development of consensus documents, to structure institutional scientific work at universities, in course curricula for teaching students, and by corporations, municipalities, and other organizations as an instrument for strategic planning towards sustainability (7).
The Natural Step: The Four Systems Conditions
1. Substances from the Earth’s crust must not systematically increase in the ecosphere.
2. Substances produced by society must not systematically increase in the ecosphere.
3. The physical basis for productivity and diversity of nature must not be systematically diminished.
4. Fair and efficient use of resources with respect to meeting human needs.
Translated into action, these four conditions mean that:
 fossil fuels, and other minerals must not be extracted at a faster pace than their slow redeposit and reintegration into the Earth’s crust, otherwise, the concentration of substances will increase and eventually reach limits — often unknown — beyond which irreversible changes occur.
 Substances must not be produced at a faster pace than they can be broken down and integrated into the cycles of nature or deposited into the Earth’s crust, otherwise the concentration of substances in the ecosphere will increase and eventually reach limits — often unknown — beyond which irreversible changes occur.
 We cannot harvest or manipulate ecosystems in such a way that productive capacity and diversity systematically diminish, because our health and prosperity depend on the capacity of nature to reconcentrate and restructure wastes into new resources.
 Basic human needs must be met with the most resource-efficient methods possible, and their satisfaction must take precedence over provision of luxuries, because humanity must prosper with a resource metabolism meeting system conditions 1 through 3. This is necessary in order to obtain the social stability and cooperation for achieving the changes in time. (8)
How do we create a life that allows all present and future humans to be healthy, have their basic needs met, have fair and equitable access to the earth’s resources, have a decent quality of life and preserve the biologically diverse ecosystems on which we all depend? Future scientists, engineers, and business people must design technology and economic activities that sustain rather than degrade the natural environment, enhance human health and well-being, and mirror and live within the limits of natural systems.