Pathways to Sustainability: A Comprehensive Strategic Planning Model for Achieving Environmental Sustainability

Posted 4/5/04

Developed at the
Washington State Department of Ecology
for Use in Public and Private Organizations

Read about the project! Available in two (PDF format) presentations:

the Full Paper

the Overview


Introduction (from the Full Paper)

This project has created and demonstrated the use of a framework for understanding and implementing an organization’s sustainability vision and strategy. This study was based on the operations and facilities of the Washington State Department of Ecology in Lacey, Washington. Its approach has been consciously designed to be applicable to a wide range of other organizations, both public and private.

This project was conducted in several steps. The purpose, process used, and results of each step are documented in this report. Taken together, this series of project components form a method for understanding the challenge of sustainability and creating a plan to achieve it. The result is a set of steps – or pathways – to sustainability.

This report is organized according to the model process followed to conduct the project, in these sections:

Quantifying the current “footprint”
Creating a “sustainability lens” to analyze impacts from a sustainability perspective
Defining twenty-five year sustainability goals
"Backcasting” the pathways to sustainability for the major impact categories
Analyzing the payback schedules for several key investments
Each of the components presented its own conceptual and logistical challenges. These are summarized briefly within each section. Several technical appendices provide detailed analysis, payback schedules, and relevant background information.

This project breaks new ground in its holistic approach, long timeframe, and emphasis on concrete pathways toward sustainability. The resulting outline of actions for the coming decades is intended to show a viable path to sustainability. It is intended to build on the cognitive understanding The Natural Step “funnel” provides: the need to change to avert an unhappy clash of supply and demand for natural capital. The pathways are intended to provide the cognitive understanding that it is possible to achieve sustainability by undertaking a series of practical steps. Stakeholders can turn these steps into concrete proposals. As stakeholders become involved and refine this vision of a sustainable future, they will be able to “own” and give life to their set of proposed changes in technologies and practices, and achieve sustainability.

This framework and these pathways are presented for your consideration. They offer the Department of Ecology – or any other willing entity -- a springboard for understanding and action. There are multiple underlying incentives to use this framework:

It uses existing financial management and reporting tools to quantify most impacts.

It ranks which environmental impacts are greatest. This helps sort out which areas require most attention.

It is based on reasonable assumptions about what kinds of technology will be available when over the next 25 years (and what kinds of changes in practice will feel appropriate). As better information becomes available, these assumptions can be adjusted. As a result, portions of the framework and pathways can be refined, without invalidating the rest of it (although whole-system links should be examined).

It defines pathways to sustainability – changes in technology and practice – that lead, step by step, to sustainability. The goals are clear. They can be refined as better information becomes available, but the direction will not change significantly.

Investing in sustainable technologies helps move the marketplace toward sustainability, and long-range planning helps support the investments required to generate sustainable products when they are needed.

The initial steps outlined in this report (and refined through its implementation) will be scaled with an understanding of how much work needs to be done, and effort will not be wasted implementing symbolic measures that do not move the organization toward sustainability.

Making smart decisions about moving to lower-energy and sustainable energy technologies and practices will save real money as energy costs rise, and avoid real disruptions as non-sustainable energy sources “hit the wall.”

Here in the Pacific Northwest, Washington and Oregon have been ranked by the Resource Renewal Institute as among the top five states in the nation in preparing to move toward sustainability. Governor Kitzhaber issued Oregon’s Executive Order for Sustainability of state government operations in 2000. In 2003, Governor Locke issued a similar Executive Order for Washington, to achieve sustainability within a generation. State agencies in Oregon and Washington, by working on their own sustainability, are positioning themselves to provide leadership and support to the broader community, and are reinforcing efforts already underway in the private sector and non-profit sector. The cities of Portland, Seattle and Olympia have forward-looking sustainability programs in place. Washington’s Paladino Consulting and Design group leads the nation in its work on the LEED standard for energy efficient building design. Portland has a well-deserved reputation for design expertise in energy efficient structures. Many diverse entities are involved, including universities, architectural and construction firms, manufacturers, and non-profits. These reflect a regional environmental ethic moving toward sustainability. There are other public and private efforts too numerous to list here (see LINKS below). We invite you to critique and collaborate on refining and broadening this methodology.


project manager: John Erickson, Department of Ecology, Lacey, Washington

consulting team: Larry Chalfan, Zero Waste Alliance, Portland, Oregon
Logan Cravens, SERA Architects PC, Portland, Oregon
Christopher Juniper, Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, Colorado
consulting team leader Jeff Morris, Sound Resource Management, Bellingham, Washington
Joshua Skov, Good Company, Eugene, Oregon

sustainability team advisors:
Lori Crews, Ecology Spill Response and Prevention Program
Patricia Jatczak, Ecology Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction Program
Nancy Mears, Ecology Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction Program
Jerry Parker, Ecology Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction Program



In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

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