The 5 Level Framework

The 5 Level Framework is a way to organize our thinking and information, so we can be more clear and strategic as we discuss and plan for moving towards sustainability.

1. Systems

This refers to anything having to do with the scope of the system we’re dealing with. In the case of a game like football/soccer, the system would be the playing field, players, ball and all of their components. In terms of sustainability, the system is the entire biosphere, including us within it. So we need an understanding of the way our system works. This can be found on ourscience page.

The funnel metaphor – a core concept at this level – is the idea that we are currently operating in a system where natural resources and ecosystem services are decreasing while demands on these resources and services are increasing, due to population growth and increasing consumption patterns. This leads to increasing economic, social and environmental pressures (represented in our metaphor by the ‘closing in’ of the funnel walls over time).


2. Success

For our purposes, success is a sustainable society. Success in the football/soccer game is winning, usually measured as the team that scored the most points. In the field of sustainable development, a sustainable society means that nature is not subject to systematic increases in:

  • concentrations of substances from the Earth’s crust;
  • concentrations of substances produced by society;
  • degradation by physical means;

and, in that society,

  • people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.

More on the 4 system conditions / sustainability principles.


3. Strategic Guidelines

This is where we talk about strategic guidelines for organizations to follow in implementing their sustainability journey. In football/soccer, this level would be about the strategy sessions the team members have as they plan how to make their goals.

With respect to sustainable development, the most important strategy to focus on is backcasting from principles: it consists of establishing a vision of the organization in the future when it is sustainable (as defined by the four sustainability principles) and then ‘backcasting’ to the present to determine what specific actions should be taken first to start working strategically towards that vision.


4. Actions

These are the concrete actions that are taken on the path to sustainability. Depending on the nature of the organization, they could include things like phasing out fossil fuel use by switching some capacity to renewable energy, or replacing metals that are scarce and potentially harmful with ones that are naturally abundant in the biosphere and therefore benign.

In our game analogy, actions would be moving towards the net to score a goal, passing to team-mates, etc.


5. Tools

This is where we talk about the variety of tools that help organizations manage and implement their path towards sustainability. Different tools are effective in different situations, but a lot of them work well together and create synergies when utilized within the context of a strategic framework. Examples of some of the many excellent sustainability tools include Environmental Management Systems, ISO 14001, Life Cycle Assessment, Biomimicry approaches, Cradle to Cradle design, Factor 10, Natural Capitalism, Ecological Footprinting, Zero Emission, etc.

In football/soccer, some tools would include the players’ fitness equipment and any strategy books they can get their hands on.