The Natural Step for Communities Study Circle Guide/Introduction

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Introduction | Guidelines | Session 1 | Session 2 | Session 3

“Perhaps the most important factor to why they were successful in becoming an eco-municipality were study circles…It’s a question of taking control over their own situation and their own future.” – Torbjorn Lahti, Project Leader Swedish Eco-Municipality movement


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The Natural Step for Communities study circle is a program developed by Sustain Dane. The inspiration for this study circle came from the experience of Swedish eco-municipalities, communities that have successfully offered similar study circles as a tool for beginning education and community conversation related to sustainability community topics. Another inspiration for this program comes from the Northwest Earth Institute; a Portland, Oregon based non-profit organization that has been offering discussion courses locally and nationally through affiliate organizations for the past 13 years. Since 1993, over 75,000 individuals have participated in one of the seven discussion courses offered by the Northwest Earth Institute.

Study Circle Overview

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Sustainability may seem like one more buzzword, and cities and towns like the last places to change, but The Natural Step for Communities provides inspiring examples of communities that have made dramatic changes toward sustainability, and explains how others can emulate their success.


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>To build a network or community of people conversant in the area of sustainability
>To become familiar with The Natural Step framework and have examples for a base of communication with others
>To have an opportunity to learn about your community so that you can lay a foundation for future action
>To be motivated to engage in actions personally and with others to move toward a sustainable future.


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A study circle format allows you to better understand the different perspectives and approaches to the complexity of sustainability. In addition, this study circle is intended to be a supportive learning experience, so please ask questions of clarification and share insights with one another. Whether you agree or disagree, you will have an opportunity to talk about an important subject with others who share your concerns, and hopefully have fun along the way!

The book used for this study circle first clarifies the concept of sustainability, offering guiding principles –The Natural Step framework __ that help identify sustainable action in any area. It then introduces the sixty-plus eco-municipalities of Sweden that have adopted changes to sustainable practices throughout municipal policies and operations. The third section explains how they did it, and outlines how other communities in North America and elsewhere can do the same. Key to success is a democratic “bottom-up change process, and clear guiding sustainability principles such as the Natural Step framework.