Meet our Nordic Fellow Karl-Henrik Robert

Karl-Henrik launched the Natural Step in the 80s, a global platform that assists institutions to create and implement concrete sustainability strategies.

For 30 years Karl-Henrik Robert has created a unifying framework for social and ecological sustainability. 

His Changemaker journey

Karl-Henrik, a former national karate champion, began his work as a medical doctor in the largest university hospital outside of Stockholm. Karl-Henrik headed a cancer ward and was a leading scientific researcher at the Karolinska Institute, which awards the Nobel Prize in Medicine. His shift in professional focus began with an insight from the connections between the natural world and the human world, also made of cells. 

At the same time, Karl-Henrik became surprised that people were willing to do so little to help fix the environment that would hamper future prospects for all children. There, Karl-Henrik saw a process where the purpose was not diffused and applied to the broader challenges of sustainability. Thus, he began to form “Scientists for the Environment” groups before building to the work with The Natural Step.

Karl-Henrik launched the Natural Step in the mid-1980s and began to pursue his environmental career full-time shortly thereafter. Karl-Henrik is a winner of the Blue Planet Prize, often considered the “Nobel” for sustainability. 

For 30 years, former cancer researcher, clinician and Ashoka Fellow Karl-Henrik Robert, has facilitated and moderated an international consensus dialogue on 

sustainability between scientists, and strategists in the public and private sectors. 


The result is the outgrowth of a unifying framework for social and ecological sustainability which is leading framework of its kind, and bringing together disparate strands of environmentalism (scientific, social, economic, etc.) to assist institutions, (from companies to governments), to create and implement concrete sustainability strategies. 

His Idea

The modus operandi of The Natural Step is to find people and organizations that would like to “do well by doing good”, i.e. creating societal momentum through role models who learn how to improve on bottom line business not in spite of their sustainable investments, but because of them. 

From Karl-Henrik Robert’s work has emerged the unifying framework of principles for strategic planning. The Natural Step has helped companies and governments guide ecologically sound decision-making worldwide. 

Karl-Henrik has worked diligently to develop scientific consensus to agree on the root of environmental problems, thereby creating a starting point from which to work on the solutions. The goal is to refine, hone, and create action plans around The Natural Step principles and to build a community of practitioners.  

Karl-Henrik’s work uses a systems approach that involves widespread community awareness, raising emphatic focus on joint decision-making. 

In concrete terms, this means to apply the framework as a shared mental model for analyses of current practices, scrutiny of visions and solutions, development of smart step-wise approaches in business programs, selection of the tools needed for the transition and, not least important, for community building. 

Karl-Henrik and The Natural Step embarked on the first unified attempt at defining the first version of a framework that would stand for scientific scrutiny at the same time as it would be functional for step-wise and concrete business approaches towards sustainability as well as better bottom line performance.


Today, Karl-Henrik has moved on to continue building a unifying framework for social and ecological sustainability.

Curious for more?

Emma Lindgren

Nordic Director