This article looks into zero-based targets and why they are so powerful. It follows on from last week’s article on the circular economy and why inertia plays such a prominent role in blocking progress towards circular business models.


Oftentimes the things which stall progress are not technological or environmental factors. But they are to do with factors internal to organisations and related to any biases and preconceptions that individuals may have.

The first example of why zero-based targets are so powerful comes from Gareth Kane. Gareth has a great blog and a video series which you can find via the link below.

Is zero waste really possible?

Using the example of transitioning to zero waste, Gareth explains that zero is the ultimate stretch goal. It is a powerful number that can inspire an organisation. Gareth also explains that the zero-based target needs to be understood within the context of the organisation. He mentions that if perfection is not possible, but a 98% reduction is made, that is still amazing. Gareth also explains that it requires a language change, away from talking about waste towards talking about resources and materials. I agree with Gareth wholeheartedly there. The overall takeaway from using a zero-based target for waste is that it is about a mindset change.

The second example for why zero-based targets are so powerful comes from Steve Howard. In his Ted Talk which you can find via the link below, he sets out his case.

Steve Howard: Let’s go all-in on selling sustainability

He uses the example from his time at IKEA where they decided to go all in on sustainability, by only selling LED lights and removing all other inferior versions. He also mentions about how 100% can be easier, as if you have a 90% target, everyone in the business finds a way of being in the 10%. Having a 100% or 0% target makes it clear of the direction of travel and the ultimate destination.

The third example of why zero-based targets are so powerful comes from John Elkington. In his book The Zeronauts he opens with the statement that: “the Zeronauts are a new breed of innovator, determined to drive problems such as carbon, waste, toxics, and poverty to zero.

He goes onto mention that: “the power of zero has been trumpeted in various areas of business, notably in relation to zero defects.” It seems sensible after total quality management approaches had such incredible success for Japanese companies, that zero-based approached could bring a new dynamism to sustainability.

For more information I would definitely recommend reading John Elkington’s book The Zeronauts, or you can find out more by watching the video below.

John Elkington on ‘The Zeronauts – A new breed of leaders’

What you need to know

This article looked into zero-based targets and why they are so powerful.

We looked at an example from Gareth Kane which related to zero waste. We looked at an example from Steve Howard which was to do with IKEA and we looked at an example in John Elkington’s book The Zeronauts.

The overall takeaway is that zero-based targets force businesses to think differently and to make different priorities and choices. They also force middle managers to act differently, when pressures on time and for results can mean that sustainability gets side lined. Zero-based targets draw a line in the sand and point towards a positive forward direction. They force businesses away from a mindset that aims for incremental achievements towards one that looks for breakthrough successes.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about zero-based targets?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby



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