Product, Service & Design Innovation
From Footprint to Handprint:
AT&T, Dell, SHINE and More on the Path to Net Positive

It is an achievement of the sustainability movement that standards for measuring and reducing our societal and planetary footprint have been established and are being tracked. But evolution tells us that more must be done - business must become restorative. Where is the roadmap for that?

The Net Positive Project, launched on Tuesday here at SB’16 San Diego, brings together an authoritative and ambitious coalition of cross-sector partners to develop a credible and aligned net positive approach, supported by a common set of principles and best practices.

Founding partners include BSR, Forum for the Future, SHINE, AT&T, Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Kimberley-Clark, AMD, Capgemini, The Crown Estate, Dow Chemical, EATON, Fetzer VIneyards, Humanscale, Kingfisher, Kohler, Owens Corning and Target.

A distinguished panel of representatives was on hand to introduce this initiative, moderated by Forum for the Future’s irrepressible Sally Uren.

The first concept to engage takes us beyond the idea of the 'footprint', or measuring harm that we cause. Net Positive encourages us to think in terms of the 'handprint' - a measurement of positive impacts our businesses can have on society and the planet.

"Shrinking your footprint is not enough," said SHINE’s Greg Norris. "To achieve Net Positive goals, we need to design for scaling... create a ripple effect."

The organizations in the Net Positive coalition want to help companies back that up, and create an economy where companies are putting more into society than they are taking out.

BSR’s David Korngold introduced the vision, principles and methodology of The Net Positive Project.

  • Vision: To have a Net Positive economy where companies drive financial success and create positive impact by putting back more into society, the environment and the global economy than they take out.
  • Principles: Expand, align and refine on Net Positive defining principles and a theory of change.
  • Methodology: Scope, measure and communicate Net Positive outcomes
  • Case Study Methodology: Advance a standardized approach for companies to develop case studies.

It's the cross-sector approach that makes the difference, Korngold said. "It's not just tech, or agribusiness ... we're trying to build this as an over-arching approach."

John Pflueger from Dell was quick to point out that this is not a one-size-fits all approach.

"Net positive is not going to be the same for every company. We're working on understanding what needs to be different and which areas we have commonality."

As the largest organic grape producer in the US, Fetzer Vineyards has a substantial stake in restorative agriculture - encouraging carbon sequestration in the soil while making better grapes. As Fetzer’s Director of Regenerative Development, Josh Prigge, put it: "If we're reducing emissions by 50 percent, we're still 50 percent bad."

AT&T has set a bold Net Positive goal - to enable carbon savings of 10x the footprint of its operations by 2025 - and is looking to the Net Positive group to help navigate and understand some of the best practices to move this initiative forward.

"The key with any strategy is finding is material focus areas," says Dan Lock of Kimberley-Clark. "We can leverage reforestation and regeneration initiatives, including rapid-growing plant fibers such as wheat or bamboo."

Questions from the crowd included some pointed concern around the "Net" in the Positive - does this mean project participants can do good in one area and badly in another?

Uren said no. "The principal behind net positive is to find that area where you can make a big impact... that doesn't mean you can ignore other impacts. But you may move faster in some areas than in others."

It's a broad initiative to embrace, in one session or one blog. But Korngold put it simply:

"We want to have transformative impact. Shift the economy, shift the sustainability movement and help us get there."

That would be positive, indeed.

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