The Natural Step along Whistler's Journey

"The Natural Step begins with two premises. The first is that sustainability includes both people and natural systems. The former because extinction is something we want to avoid, and the latter because it is required to avoid the former."

The Natural Step Towards Sustainability For Designers

Whistler's Journey

Sustainability has always been top of mind for Whistler. From the early pioneers who were attracted to the region, to the individuals who built the resort community - all were aware that the natural environment was Whistler's most important and beloved asset. Many important decisions were made with both environmental and social sustainability in mind, such as the establishment of the Whistler Housing Authority, Village Design Guidelines, AWARE (a respected local non-profit organization focusing on the environment) and much more. Whistler's journey to sustainability continues to progress and evolve. An important step in this journey was the adoption of the Natural Step framework to define sustainability.


Founded in 1989 in Sweden by Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert, the Natural Step is a non-profit organization with offices in 12 countries that work with hundreds of corporations, municipalities, academic institutions and non-profit organizations to help them achieve their sustainability goals.

Dr. Robert initiated the development of the framework in response to the ongoing health issues that he was treating, which he believed were directly linked to the environmental impacts of modern industrial societies. Could we not agree on the fundamental ways in which we, as a society, are impacting the planet and consequently our own health? This was the question that he posed to a group of international scientists and business leaders. The answer to the question resulted in consensus on four complete, yet non-overlapping conditions that society was violating. Moreover, they achieved a common understanding that society would need to stop violating these conditions in order to achieve what could be rightly labeled a ‘sustainable’ society. These conditions became the Natural Step Sustainability Principles, and the foundation for a framework that inspired fundamental change throughout Swedish communities as well as international business, such as MacDonald’s, IKEA and Interface Carpets.

Karl-Henrik’s first visit to Whistler was in the winter of 2000, when he came for a snowboard holiday and also gave a few talks around town about the TNS framework. Life is about timing, and the timing was right! Whistler had always been proactive around the environment and other forward-looking issues, yet never defined its efforts in a formal definition of, or framework for, sustainability. In fact, some local leaders were at that time seeking some way of communicating and engaging with the broader community about sustainability issues – and as luck would have it, they found their solution in Dr. Robert’s presentations.

An Early Adopter program was formed, which included the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Tourism Whistler, One-hour Photo and AWARE (Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment). The early adopters launched a program called “Whistler: It’s our Nature” which included:

  • Train the trainer programs for increasing awareness within each organization
  • A community symposium on sustainability
  • A successful speaker series, with included: David Suzuki, Ray Anderson, Donald Aitkins, and Jeneen Benius, among others
  • Sustainability toolkits for businesses, schools and households

The Early Adopter organizations developed sustainability programs within their own organizations and supported the broader rollout to the rest of the community. As a result, Whistler: It's our Nature was developed as a community outreach program to help educate and inspire around sustainability.


The community soon decided that it wanted to develop a comprehensive and long-term vision, plan and process for its future that was rooted in sustainability. A program called Whistler: It's our Future was developed, again to reach out and understand community members' hopes and priorities for the future. The result is Whistler2020, the first comprehensive sustainability plan in North America to use the science-based TNS framework at all levels of development and implementation.



Check out the 2020explorer

Whistler 2020 explorer

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