Last week Harvard’s Sustainability and Health Initiative for Net Positive Enterprise (SHINE) hosted its annual Net Positive Summit to showcase the latest trends in well-being and health, and how they factor into creating Net Positive impacts. SHINE’s mission is to help corporations across all sectors measure and accelerate the ways in which they help the world become a healthier, more sustainable place. The summit showcased how integral well-being – which includes a combination of employee health and the health of the planet – is to creating a flourishing future. SHINE aims to get companies to factor their impact on our health into all business decisions, and act in ways that will protect us and our planet.
The program began with Mark Morrey, founder of A Connected Leader, who encouraged us to step into nature to wire our brains and senses for restoration, creativity and impact. With a set of three questions in hand, we ventured out into the gardens and asked ourselves: “What is happening?” “What is this telling me?” and “What is this teaching me?” The purpose of these questions was to drive deep reflection on our surroundings and how that was impacting our thought process and connection to nature. This session set the stage for the rest of the summit, and brought us into the mindset of connection and allowing our family, community and work life to be in alignment with nature.
Continuing with the theme of integration, we turned to holistic well-being in the workplace. Holistic well-being means not just promoting wellness, but also factoring in purpose and meaning in the workplace through community service, optimizing financial well-being, and designing environments for performance. Diane Solinger, head of GooglersGive, uses volunteerism as a tool to make employees feel included in the workplace and to open employees’ eyes to what’s going on in their own community.
Kimberly Almeida of the Levi Strauss Foundation expanded our idea of workplace well-being by including the well-being of workers in the supply chain. She showcased case studies and examples of ways that the Foundation is working with factories to go beyond health and safety, and to truly account for the quality of life for factory workers, most of whom are women. Levi’s recently completed pilot projects for the Worker Well-being initiative in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Egypt, Haiti and Pakistan to advance women’s health education programs in factories around the world. Almeida stressed the need for uniform factory codes of conduct as critical to improving the health and lives of factory workers and improving efficiencies within the supply chain as a whole.
The overarching theme of the summit was Determined to Thrive. To attain a flourishing, thriving and sustainable future for all, a restorative and self-sustaining future, requires Net Positive actions by people and organizations. The Net Positive Project, launched at Sustainable Brands ‘16 San Diego earlier this month, is a coalition of businesses led by Forum for Future, SHINE and BSR. Their collective aim is to generate and refine principles around Net Positive, and to build methodology and develop a standard way for companies to quantify, assess and enhance their positive impacts.
We examined the opportunities and challenges of Net Positive in measuring beneficial impacts. The opportunity is that Net Positive can be considered a “race to the top.” As Eric Olson from BSR explained, doing less harm - which translates to understanding risk and reducing impact - is not enough to create a sustainable future. Fortunately, American companies like to be heroes: if the objective is to do good, there is no limit. Companies get very excited about quantifying and competing on who can provide the most benefit to society. Companies that are striving for Net Positive are racing to the top and are learning that the biggest impact does not comes out of compliance, but rather comes from engaging the department who is tasked with developing the product or service.
Olson also discussed another challenge with regard to rolling out Net Positive: This is a very big concept. It’s already very interesting to marketing departments and risks being abused as the next “buzz word” with no rigor or meaning. Net Positive needs to retain and maintain its meaning: to provide a positive benefit on society and that doing “less bad” business practices isn’t good enough anymore. On the other extreme, though, we need to make sure that we don’t get so wound up in the details that nobody can use it. In other words, we want people to get excited about it, but it still needs to be credible.
Representatives from Dell, Eaton and Kohler also spoke on the challenges and opportunities of working toward Net Positive. John Pflueger of Dell mentioned that one main challenge is delivering a number. There is still so much that most companies aren’t measuring, for example, social impacts. Handprinting, a new way to account for positive impacts – including social impacts – is both left- and right-brained. It uses accounting and financial metrics, but also touches the heart as we consider the human aspect of our operations.
Eaton’s Claire Castleman addressed the question of when to reset the bar for “business as usual.” In other words, how long will it take for the rest of the market to catch up to efficiencies and handprinting measurements that will become the new business as usual? The question brought up a broader answer: Anything we achieve, we achieve with the help of others. Sharing the credit of handprints shows co-dependence, and collective net positivity is needed to build a flourishing future for all. The notion that taking the “credit” for doing good - as a scarce, private good - is not relevant for net positivity. If one company does good, we all do better.