Our history

Three decades in the making

Generate Canada launched in 2024 as the new identity for The Natural Step Canada, founded in 1996. The organization was initially built on the foundational work of Sweden’s “Det Naturliga Steget,” which, in the late 1980’s, established itself as a leader in the global sustainability movement. Its work focused on bringing scientific rigor and a strategic principles-based approach to advancing sustainability in organizations and communities. This effort was guided by the Natural Step Framework, developed by scientist Karl-Henrik Robèrt. The Framework became known in academic literature and in a series of books as the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD).

Connecting economy, society  & environment (before it was cool)

Since its inception The Natural Step (TNS) understood the interconnected, and often fragile, link between business, economy, society, and the healthy and productive natural environment on which all of these depend.  Quietly and behind-the-scenes, TNS worked (and continues to work globally) with thousands of corporations, municipalities, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations. The aim:  to develop and implement strategies and solutions that are climate-smart, nature-positive and that simultaneously advance a strong  economy. These efforts significantly influenced meaningful shifts, including:

  •  The development of IKEA’s founding sustainability principles
  •  Nike’s first sustainably sourced running shoe
  •  Interface’s journey to become the world’s largest and most sustainable carpet manufacturer
  • Whistler’s pre-Olympic infrastructure and sustainability plan
  •  The Cooperators positioning as a leader in sustainability and sustainable finance.

As the world changed, so did we

Over the past three decades, TNS’ work in Canada evolved. Initially our emphasis was on working with experts to develop and refine frameworks and tools,  advising organizations and their leaders,  and promoting a broader understanding of sustainable development through training and education. This work – often done as embedded teams within the organizations we were serving – made it evident that most of the barriers to change were not the lack of will or capacity within any given group – but rather the broader systemic barriers and headwinds they were facing.   More times than not it was the lack of appropriate infrastructure or technologies, failure to achieve alignment across supply-chains, lack of financing, unfavourable public policy, uncertain market signals, and polarized public discourse that was getting in the way of large scale industry-wide transitions to more sustainable approaches.   

This caused us to shift our emphasis from supporting organizational-level change to creating the enabling systemic conditions and the inter-organizational dynamics required to accelerate the pace of breakthrough innovation and the scalable execution of economically-viable sustainable solutions.      

Through “Sustainability Transition Labs”, coalitions, pacts and other multi-stakeholder initiatives we focused on bringing a broad spectrum of committed actors to the table to overcome the systemic barriers to sustainability facing high-priority sectors, industries or supply-chains. 

This required a multi-disciplinary approach that harnessed our ever-evolving expertise in the science of sustainability, supply-chain dynamics, design thinking, foresighting, social innovation, and socio-technical systems transitions.

Enter: a critical new lens and partner  for our work

In the years leading up to 2020,  sustainability rose on the public and corporate agenda. It became increasingly understood as a fundamental requirement for long-term economic, business, and social well-being.  Yet the challenges in front of usthe polycrisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss–were also understood as more complex and urgent than ever before. That these challenges are real and happening became increasingly beyond debate.  But, in the face of polarization, unrest, and uncertainty–the hallmarks of our age–many started to believe these wicked problems are unsolvable.

TNS recognized that driving systems change in this context required a depth of expertise in public policy research and design that was beyond our scope.  We began working with partners who could bring this dimension into our work. That is what led us to the Smart Prosperity Institute.  Seeing significant alignment and synergies between our two organizations, we established a formal partnership in 2020.  

While remaining two independent organizations, we worked to fully integrate our priorities and operations. We collaboratively launched new Solution Spaces including the Canada Plastics Pact, CANZA, and the Nature Investment Hub.  And we continue to find new ways to multiply our impacts through this unique approach.

A new name and a different kind of organization

While we continue to harness all we have learned, and remain a member of the Global TNS network,  we are no longer the same organization we were when first conceived so many years ago.    In light of this – and in recognition of our new partnership  with the Smart Prosperity Institute, we decided to take on a refreshed identity as Generate Canada in 2024.

What drives us today is the conviction that complex challenges can’t be solved in silos. We need organizations to see their roles and their agency within the bigger, broken systems that perpetuate wicked problems. We need to create a “radical middle” space where they can collaboratively innovate and test solutions. And we need to arm them with the best existing research and policy knowledge to guide that thinking. 

This is what we deliver as Generate Canada through our unique partnership with Smart Prosperity. 

Together, we create Solution Spaces focused on big, hairy challenges. We power them with cutting-edge research and policy expertise.  And we reinforce and continually improve them through collective and cumulative learning about what it takes to drive real change in today’s world.  

With our new name, we acknowledge we are also  a different kind of organization.  Different than we were when we started, and different than most other organizations working in this space. But that journey empowers this new chapter.  We know Generate Canada will continue to evolve as we strive to answer the tough calling of our times. It’s in our DNA.

Our Timeline


The  Natural Step (TNS)  launched in Sweden

1996 – 1997

TNS incorporated as a Canadian non-profit


Whistler becomes the first community in North America to adopt The Natural Step Framework

2005- 2006
  • Work ramps up with Canadian municipalities.  Whistler embeds TNS framework into the community’s highest level policy, Whistler 2020
  •  Launch of online sustainable development course reaching 10,000 Canadian learners
  • TNS partners with The Cooperators to integrate sustainability into its strategic plan
2013 – 2016
  • TNS launches sustainability transition labs, including Energy Future Lab.
  • Hosts national conferences on accelerating a transition to sustainability.
  • Circular Economy Leadership Coalition launched at G7 (built off the initial work of our Circular Economy Innovation Lab)
  • TNS enters into formal partnership with the Smart Prosperity Institute and begins ongoing journey to integrate the two organizations’ strategies and operations
  • TNS’s CELC works with Environment and Climate Change Canada to secure bid – and ultimately host in Canada – the 2021 World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF)
  • Canada Plastics Pact developed by CELC and launched in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as part of global Plastics Pact Network to advance a circular plastics economy for Canada
  • Launch of Canadian Alliance for Net-Zero Agriculture (CANZA)
  • Launch of Nature Investment Hub
  • Organization renamed and relaunched as Generate Canada

Dig Deeper

Video Series

Explore The Natural Step’s Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD)

This video playlist, created by Sustainability Illustrated,  explains the key concepts of the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD), also known as The Natural Step Framework.  It’s a great place to start if you are interested in learning more about The Natural Step’s core ideas. You can also read the Canada Sustainability Primer, created by TNS, that inspired the series.

Watch The Videos

Case study

The Co-operators: an industry change agent

In 2006, The Co-operators invited The Natural Step Canada to help the organization integrate sustainability into its strategic planning. With a bold vision to be “a catalyst for a sustainable society,” The Co-operators charted a new strategic direction that would earn them recognition as one of Canada’s leading corporate citizens.

Download PDF

Case study: The birth of a Solution Space

How the right framework, collaborative thinking and a whole lot of perseverance led to the birth of the Canada Plastics Pact

Read The Story

Join us

There are many ways to participate in advancing our mission. Whether you are interested in driving forward a specific solution or advancing our overall vision, we are excited to explore how we can work together for impact.

Join The Work