Published 1 year ago.
About a 7 minute read.
Image: James Wheeler/Pexels
To create real change and avert a climate crisis, we must move beyond earth-neutral and embrace earth-positive — and that starts with your narrative. Here are three ways to ensure that your business, your brand and your ethos are all earth-positive.
Amongst the noise and shock of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was easy
to miss the third
of the IPCC
report, released four days after the first
missile strikes. The war has reminded us that our dependency on oil and gas has
immediate and tragic geo-political implications today, as well as dire ones for
our climate tomorrow.
Without wanting to, Europe is funding Russia’s war on
just as we are all inadvertently funding war on our natural ecosystems — the
plants, animals and communities we love and need, but seem incapable of not
It can feel like every choice we make — putting gas in our car, eating
— is a trade-off. The things we like and need have destructive consequences —
far removed from our experience, but no less real. This is the conflicted
reality of our interconnected world, and it affects all of us at every level of
The report’s message was clear. We are not on track to reduce our emissions
enough to keep warming in check. Goals such as “net
and our efforts to build a sustainable world have fallen short, as evidenced by
COP26’s failure to move us
Within the bleak reporting was the acknowledgement that a livable planet is
within reach. Headlines such as “It’s now or never” and “Our last climate
warning” set the nature of the challenge. As IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee puts it:
“We are at a
The decisions we make now can secure a livable future. We have the tools and
know-how required to limit warming,”
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What we do know: Sustainability is not going to get us there.
By definition, “sustainability” doesn’t offer a path forward. It is
backward-looking — based on an unrealistic expectation that if we can just curb
production, growth or consumption, we can return our society and planet to a
But humans are built to progress; while we might wish for everyone to eat less
meat, drive less and buy fewer clothes, this is not a realistic global strategy.
Even if today’s super consumers stopped buying so much — history suggests this
is unlikely — there are hundreds of millions of people across the world who are
just getting started. In addition, the disparity of wealth, health and
opportunities in the world means that further growth and development are not
only inevitable, but desirable.
The myth of sustainability has prevented us from achieving true and meaningful
change by setting an impossible behavioral standard (to restrain the natural
human desire for growth) and by creating a false opposition between economy and
ecology, where one can only thrive at the expense of the other.
The inevitable conflict has been compounded by the fact that most of the time we
were flying blind: We had no idea if any of the sustainable actions we were
taking — as businesses or individuals — were having any
Creating a livable future means we must dismantle both of these beliefs and
suggest more practical (and pleasurable) alternatives; we must be able to
measure the effect of what we’re doing — and we must aim beyond sustainability.
The first step is to better understand the impact of our actions. We have
entered an era where big data and machine learning are helping us to visualize
how complex systems work, and to model scenarios that help us change behavior.
We are no longer blind to the systems we inhabit and influence.
Thanks to resources including Sweep — helping
companies fully understand the carbon impact of their business — and
Sourceful — bringing a more complete understanding
of the supply chain so that companies can make better choices about sourcing
products — businesses now have the ability to better measure and alter their
Sustainability sees business as essentially destructive forces; the best we can
do is limit their impact to net zero. We, however, prefer the term used by
Pangaia: “Earth positive” — that
businesses, just like all other living organisms, can be beneficial to the
environment they inhabit. While this may feel out of reach, as very few
earth-positive businesses currently exist, it is a worthy destination.
Pangaia takes inspiration from nature to completely reimagine how we create our
materials: making clothes from seaweed, food waste and
growing dyes from bacteria; producing sunglasses from CO2; and, of course,
ensuring all packaging is compostable.
Companies including Aleph
and Fork & Goode grow cell-cultured meat that is
biologically identical to — and just as tasty as — meat from animals, but
involves no death or suffering, and eliminates the need to use land for
livestock. Bowery grows vegetables indoors, near
to the people who are going to eat them, thus freeing up agricultural land to be
rewilded and avoiding the supply chain snarls we’re seeing as lettuce and other
perishables are routinely shipped thousands of miles between field and
These companies have shifted their focus toward giving people great value that’s
good for the planet and for themselves, without telling people that they have to
change their behaviors. This is human value and valuable commerce. Each avoids
the simplistic ecology vs. economy zero-sum game. Instead of equating economic
success with climate disaster, they demonstrate how to deliver increased
innovation and growth in ways that have not only earth-neutral but
The future needs a constructive mindset — an intentionally constructive
narrative focused on opportunities. With that in mind, here are three ways to
ensure that your business, your brand and your ethos are all earth-positive.
Sustainability has become a business
But most sustainability strategies are designed around reduction, compensation,
or some level of siloed offsetting — trying to do “less harm.” Usually, this is
because when your business model is built on extraction and other inherently
earth-negative activities, no amount of future-facing carbon offsetting will
have a positive impact.
The best brands consider their entire value chain — from sourcing, production
and distribution to usage and post-use — and embrace earth-positive solutions at
each step, seeking always to leverage network effects to create substantial
change. This is about designing an entire business around earth positivity,
rather than offsetting the impact of your core business. This is mainstream,
Sustainability messaging has typically relied on notions of guilt, duty, and
sacrifice; the idea that a diminished experience — decreased quality, higher
prices, more inconvenience — is the cost of doing the right thing.
Earth-positive behavior is about delivering a better experience without
expecting people to pay more for the privilege. This is not about giving people
more choices, but helping them live more intentionally. Not every choice has to
be a conflict.
Make it easy, enjoyable and
to make decisions that make the world more livable. Brands must make
earth-positive purchasing decisions as easy to opt into as the
“less-sustainable” options. Focus on desire and happiness, not guilt and
Every brand’s contribution to climate solutions is unique. Explain what you’re
doing and why you’re doing it. Draw attention to your innovations within this
space. Show how your business is serving the environment and the communities it
Be outspoken, be intentional and see your climate journey as one of the most
important ways you can stand apart from your competitors. And while your actions
may be unique, they can be universally inspirational. Every earth-positive
company out there is a challenge for others to move from sustainability to
Published May 6, 2022 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Nick Barham is a partner at FNDR — a Venice, CA-based consultancy that works with founders to harness the power of narrative to give voice to their vision.