Product, Service & Design Innovation
Net Positive:
How to Move From Ambition to Implementation

Arriving a few minutes late after taking ‘the sustainable option’ and walking to the Beaumont Estate from Egham station, Forum for the Future’s Zoe Le Grand kicked off Monday morning’s Net Positive workshop.

“Nature cannot continue to provide as the population grows and grows,” she asserted. “We are not going to get there by doing what we have always done or just being 10 percent more efficient. Business needs to step up the level of ambition and drive things faster and further.”

So what is Net Positive?

“Net Positive is about aiming to put back more than the organization takes out; with overall positive impact. This is a mindset shift that the organizations I have worked with have found very helpful.

“The conversation is moving beyond Zero Harm. At the end of the day, if we commit to not doing any more harm then we stay where we are now. And where we are now is not sustainable.”

Through its Net Positive Group, Forum for the Future’s aim is to “grow the number of companies making net positive commitments.” To reach this end, the firm has hosted conversations about Net Positive and what that meant. One of the subjects that came up during these conversations was the fear that Net Positive could be used as a green-washing technique. How can we make sure it’s real?

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1. Focus on making a positive impact in key material areas. These make it real. 2. Do things that have a demonstrable impact rather than focus on measurement. Stories and case studies can show what you have done. 3. Implement best practice across the board without trade-offs. It’s not ok to rest assured of positive environmental impact and have poor social conditions further on in the supply chain. 4. Innovate. The radical innovation approach is part and parcel of being Net Positive. 5. Make wider partnerships with peers, customers, and suppliers in delivering this throughput to the environment.

“Net positive takes you out of your sphere of control and into your sphere of influence.”

James Robey from business consulting group Capgemini started off by referring to Net Positive as a “game changer” — a concept that takes you beyond meeting targets and into making sure that the said targets have an overall positive effect.

Robey explained how Capgemini’s first generation of sustainability targets ended in 2014 and necessitated conversations about how the next generation of targets would be developed. With a relatively modest carbon footprint, “the biggest opportunity for Capgemini was to work with clients, suppliers and employees to reduce their end impact. By 2017 we want to be reducing the carbon footprint in our ecosystem by three times our own carbon footprint.”

“Net Positive is about mindset change,” he continued, “a way of engaging much more widely across the business. Taking responsibility from the hands of the few and out to the many.”

Speaking for Kingfisher, the largest home improvement firm in Europe, Dax Lovegrove took us through its journey towards becoming Net Positive in 2050.

“We can keep doing things a little bit better, we can decouple growth from impact, we can be zeronauts or we can be net positive where we actually have a restorative economy.”

Kingfisher’s targets revolve around four main areas of influence: Timber, Energy, Innovation and Communities, taking each as a standalone sector in which it aims to have a positive impact by the year 2050.

“In the corporate sector we are in a state of disconnected philanthropy,” he said, referring to monetary handouts made as CSR initiatives. “What are the most relevant challenges that the business can help tackle?”

“The big thing for me is total energy solutions rather than just eco products.”

Coming from the travel industry with a different approach, Rosie Howell from TUI Travel, the world’s largest tourism business, spoke about its quest to leverage “the positive impact that tourism has for the biggest benefit of the communities in the destinations we operate in.” She continued, “how can we have a positive impact on the environment? We are right at the start of our journey.”

“Destination communities and environments we take our clients to are our product. We run risks if those are not socially and environmentally sustainable,” Howell said. “We face a big data challenge in the tourism industry. We have tracked and managed the footprint of our business but have not really tracked the impact on our destinations. “

Faced with a lack of availability of relevant data, TUI embarked on a project using PwC’s TIMM tool to create a destination case study for Cyprus. A groundbreaking project for the travel industry, they collected country-wide data to measure economic, tax, social and environmental impacts of TUI’s operations. Monetizing their four spheres of influence, the results showed a significant overall positive impact to the tune of €84 per guest night compared with €4 of environmental damage. Moving forward, TUI has just launched a new strategy, entitled “Better Holidays, Better World,” which aims to make tourism a force for good.

The room then broke into workshops discussing different aspects of the Net Positive challenge, with participants delving deeper into their own difficulties and discussing solutions, trends and strategies.

Drawing the very animated and informative session to a close, conversation turned to the benefits of leveraging the opportunity for making change rather than focusing on risk mitigation when getting Net Positive buy-in. Inspiration engages so much more than fear.

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