This article looks into sustainability, net positive futures and how to make sustainability great.
There are a number of stages that businesses pass through on their sustainability journey.
Early sustainability efforts are often focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR). These are philanthropic efforts where the company lets their staff volunteer in the community, or invests in worthy projects. This is certainly better than doing nothing, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
The next stage is a bolt on sustainability stage. This is where companies build up an internal sustainability apparatus, but gives these people limited opportunities to change the strategic direction of the business.
In the next stage, companies progress to embedding sustainability within their business strategy. This is a very advanced level of sustainability. It involves the company choosing to not do things that are damaging and actively looking to create value in a way that is both socially and environmentally sustainable.
Up until recently embedded sustainability would have been considered to be the gold standard of corporate sustainability. Businesses that would have achieved this level would have had nowhere further to progress to.
But this is no longer the case. The Net Positive Project have raised the bar and there is now a new top tier of corporate sustainability. This is reserved for businesses who are committed to creating a net positive future. This means that they are not just committed to reducing all of their negative social and environmental impacts to zero. But they are committed to going into the marketplace and actively making the world a better place. The aim is to create value for all of a company’s stakeholders.
This is a much more inspiring message than the commonplace notion that sustainability is about “being less bad.” Companies that are committed to creating net positive futures aspire to be good actors. Whilst it may only appear to be a small difference, in practice it is dramatically different.
This is what needs to be done to make sustainability great. Compliance is simply not enough, it doesn’t stimulate enough change fast enough to deal with many of the pressing social and environmental problems.
CSR activities, although worthwhile often bare no resemblance to a company’s core business activities. It would be much better to leverage their core capabilities to do good in the marketplace.
For companies that are stuck in the bolt on stage, they need to place more emphasis on integrating sustainability into the overall business strategy. It is also not good value to hire a sustainability team only to not act upon many of their suggestions.
For companies in the embedded stage, the key is to think bigger and to think more systematically about how they can create value through sustainability. This includes looking at the business model they employ and seeing if a circular business model could be used instead. There are big opportunities from taking a systemic approach.
One opportunity is that through leadership in sustainability, your business could become the leader of a movement. Simon Mainwaring has a great video on how this works, which you can find via the link below.
If you are the CEO of a company, then stretching the boundaries of sustainability and developing a net positive approach will mean that you are perceived in a different light. Take the outpouring of thanks and congratulations that was directed towards Paul Polman after he recently announced his decision to step down as CEO of Unilever. I found the article by Richard Edelman which you can find via the link below to be particularly striking.
What you need to know
This article looked into sustainability, net positive futures and how to make sustainability great.
We looked into the various stages that businesses pass through on their sustainability journey. This used to begin with CSR and end with embedded sustainability. But this has now been surpassed by businesses who are committed to creating net positive futures.
Businesses who are committed to net positive futures reorient their activities towards creating value for all of their stakeholders. It is about having a regenerative approach, systems thinking, circular economy business models and actively trying to make the world a better place. By doing this, these businesses can lead a movement that benefits them financially by inspiring their customers and employees.
Incremental approaches and approaches that lean too heavily towards compliance simply aren’t good enough. These approaches are not getting us to where we need to be fast enough and there are much more effective and inspirational ways of operating. To make sustainability great, businesses should develop a net positive approach. There has never been a better time to demonstrate leadership in this area.
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 needs to be done to make sustainability great?