Implementing Cradle to Cradle through backcasting

From creative inspiration to tangible results
Implementing Cradle to Cradle through backcasting
Publ. date 13 Jan 2009
Cradle to Cradle has taken wings in the Netherlands. After the broadcast of the compelling documentary ‘Waste equals Food’ on national television in 2006 a wide range of activities have taken place in order to make Cradle to Cradle happen. Now that we have managed to inspire a lot of people to think about moving toward Cradle to Cradle it is time to truly start taking steps. A strategic planning approach called backcasting can help to integrate of sustainable development into the core of corporate strategy.

Inspiration from Cradle to Cradle
Over the last couple of years the Dutch sustainability movement has, thanks to the concept of Cradle to Cradle, received a huge energy boost. The situation we are faced with in the development of Cradle to Cradle is that it concurrently lacks a well developed implementation strategy. Our Minister of Environment, Jacqueline Cramer, has embraced the concept, but as Douwe-Jan Joustra from SenterNovem indicates on his weblog; there is still a need for a clear national C2C strategy. The concept of Cradle to Cradle does provide a very inspiring and compelling, easy-to-communicate vision, but doesn’t provide the strategic planning approach so much needed to have the stakeholder dialogue, planning and decision making process to work towards its vision of success. This is what has lead to the current reality of Cradle to Cradle in the Netherlands: a lot of people, highly involved and very ambitious, talking, thinking and coming up with incredible out-of-the-box ideas on Cradle to Cradle but… this is where it ends at this stage. “A vision without execution is hallucination” is how Einstein put it; now it’s time to focus on how we are going to strategically move towards what inspires us.

Decision Making through Backcasting
Cradle to Cradle, inspiring as it is, helps us to think out-of-the-box. After generating a wide range of ideas in this realm it is time to start planning and prioritizing. A strategic planning approach that can help us beyond this is called backcasting. Backcasting, as opposed to forecasting methods of predicting the future, is about working ‘backwards’; looking back from a future state of success in order to determine the most desirable next steps that bridge the gap between current reality and the future state of success. Backcasting is a strategic planning approach that was used in the late 60’s and early 70’s by Royal Dutch/Shell and has continued to evolve further. Nowadays it is being used more and more to deal with change management and integrating sustainability into the core of organizational strategy. It is a participatory approach that helps you to identify your biggest gaps between your vision of success and the current reality and then supports you in prioritizing what actions to take when in order to move toward that vision while maintaining a healthy return on investment. It is an approach that has been applied already by Interface, Nike, Ikea, McDonalds and Volvo and also by dozens of municipalities over the world, amongst others the community of Whistler, Canada, with which they have won the United Nation’s sponsored Liveable Communities gold medal for ‘planning for the future’.

Inspiration & Results
Cradle to Cradle and backcasting are very complementary to each other. The key strength of Cradle to Cradle is that it releases creativity and helps people to think out-of-the box. The added value of backcasting in this is that it helps us to identify the best ideas, be strategic about the implementation path to follow and supports us in tangible value creation.

For more information on how to effectively use backcasting in your organisation, please contact Jan van der Kaaij, managing partner, at or call +31 6 28 02 18 80.

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