Our ABCD Process

Backcasting from sustainability principles

We apply the sustainability principles as we go through our ABCD process. This model is based on backcasting, in order to plan strategically and successfully towards a sustainable future. It is a proven step-by-step method for moving towards our vision. How can you work with it in practice? Very easy, since it’s just the opposite of forecasting.

We begin with the end in mind. From our vision, we move backwards to the present. We carry out an analysis of the present conditions so that we better understand our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Keeping the results in mind, we start moving towards our future vision, stepwise, and with all our creativity.

Creating the future we want

Backcasting from sustainability principles is an effective way to handle the complex challenges we are facing, especially when current trends are becoming part of the problem. The ABCD process helps us to find intelligent and innovative solutions, leading us towards the future we want and to a sustainable competitive advantage.


Backcasting from sustainability principles

How to work through the ABCD process

By applying the ABCD process, we consider the context of your situation. The proceeding as such is iterative, not linear, thus it can vary depending on your individual needs.

ABCD Process AAwareness & Vision

It’s all about building awareness and envisioning a future we want. First of all, we need a shared understanding of the systems we depend upon, the challenge, potential benefits and the ABCD process itself. This is fundamental before we start to analyse, plan, develop and collaborate. We use our rock-solid and proven science-based expertise as a firm basis. With a shared understanding and language, it becomes easier to create a meaningful and inspiring vision of our future organisation. Knowing where we want to be, we can take our next steps to get there.

ABCD Process BBaseline Analysis

In this step, we conduct a baseline assessment of your activities. We analyse them by applying a systems view through the lens of our sustainability principles. The resulting gap analysis reveals how your organisation, its services and its policies currently violate the sustainability principles. The baseline assessment also shows what you do in compliance with them. We generate valuable insights into your sustainability performance, innovative capability and the level of operational excellence. Our various methods and tools will perfectly reflect the specific situation and context.

ABCD Process CCreative Solutions

Having identified the gap between where we are today (B) and where we want to be (A), we brainstorm and list intelligent ideas and innovations in order to come up with creative solutions to close the gap. We deal with long-term aspects, as well as with options to act short-term in order to pick low-hanging fruits. Ultimately it is all about transforming key challenges into opportunities. All this will provide us with attractive options for sustainable business models around your products and services. We draft inspiring pictures of what we have to set up to become truly sustainable and to create real value.

ABCD Process DDecide on Priorities

Our key questions to answer: What are the most intelligent next steps to accelerate change? What potential quick wins will enable stakeholders and others? Who should be involved? How can we motivate our partners and stakeholders to support us? How can we make it happen? Depending on the ABCD iteration process, this will be a high-level roadmap or a detailed action plan. We will filter and prioritise actions, innovations and solutions. Together, we will plan our concrete next steps. By designing prototypes and pilots we will generate quick wins and achieve immediate success that we can communicate to our stakeholders.

By consequently working through the ABCD process, we avoid misusing the term sustainability in a way that would directly lead to greenwashing. We do exactly the opposite: we collaborate across disciplines and sectors, engage stakeholders and motivate them to create systems value.

Your benefits applying the ABCD process and backcasting from sustainable principles at a glance:

  1. You base your strategy on a clear vision of a future sustainable society.
  2. You don’t waste time and money on short-term and ad-hoc decisions.
  3. You can adjust your strategy stepwise, considering new technologies and inventions.
  4. You won’t reproduce problems that exist today.
  5. You can easily agree on the principles of success and your envisioned future, even in large groups.

At The Natural Step Germany, we help you to create a programme with different phases that will enable us to revisit and refine the ABCD process stepwise and according to your specific needs. Our objective is to achieve immediate success that you can communicate to your stakeholders.

Get inspired

Please have a look at how our colleague Alexandre Magnin at The Natural Step Canada has summed it up. He uses slightly different wording, but it’s fun!


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We know that innovators, thought-leaders and masterminds boost change, and we are proud to have had a remarkable number of them in our direct network since the early years. We also know that, at the end of the day, it is the individuals in the businesses and institutions that need to make it happen. Not only for themselves and for the organisations they are part of, but also to ensure that society and the environment they depend on become sustainable.

Want to learn more how to make it happen?