We’ve seen the decouplers, those businesses who are making great strides in growing their business, but not their environmental footprint. There are then the zero-noughts, a term coined by John Elkington for those businesses who are going for zero - zero waste, zero carbon and so on. In other words, no net impact. And then, pushing the bar even higher, there are the net positives [see 'The new adventurers of the business world' by Dax Lovegrove]. This is currently a very exclusive group, with Interface probably being the longest standing member. This group is characterised by a stated, public desire to be a restorative business. Today, in publicly launching Net Positive, the multinational home improvement retailer Kingfisher plc swells the ranks of the restorative sustainability pioneers.
Through brands such as B&Q in the UK and China, Castorama in France and Poland, Brico Depot in France and Spain and Koctas in Turkey, Kingfisher plc strives to help millions of people each week to improve their homes. For Kingfisher, Net Positive means not just preventing deforestation, but working towards net reforestation. It means helping create homes that go beyond zero carbon to become net energy generators. It means innovating new business models, products and services, as well as working in communities to equip people with the fundamental practical skills of making and mending.
Critically, Net Positive is a long-term vision, and will require business transformation if it is to become reality. For sustainability to succeed in business, there needs to be a clear articulation of what the end goal looks like, and an explicit recognition that business as usual won’t cut it.
There will of course be the critics of Net Positive. How will Kingfisher deliver such ambitious goals? The honest answer is that the business doesn’t quite know yet, and is actively seeking new partnerships and new collaborators to find solutions to some of the tricky challenges it is trying to tackle. For me though, far better to have a crazily ambitious vision with some grey areas on the road-map, than a flimsy set of incremental goals, where yes, the execution plan is clear, but is the change outcome significant?
And how will Kingfisher measure progress? There are already some KPIs, but they need more work. And KPIs that measure restorative impacts are, well, quite new. The good news is that Kingfisher has a strong track record in measuring progress. At Forum for the Future, through our partnership with the business, we’ve seen first-hand the enormous effort that goes into measuring and monitoring its key impacts.
And how on earth will Kingfisher communicate something as visionary as Net Positive? By making the concept easy to understand, and making the millions of people that wander through its aisles feel as though the choices they are making matter.
Whether or not Net Positive intrigues, excites or baffles – it needs to do one thing, and that is succeed. Only by showing that being a restorative business makes commercial sense, will we tackle the biggest deficit about. Not the national and global budgetary one, but the natural one. Decoupling and /or going for zero won’t restore nature’s balance sheet. Net Positive might.
Dr Sally Uren is Deputy CEO of the global not-for-profit Forum for the Future. She is also the Chair of Kingfisher’s Independent Stakeholder Panel. Kingfisher is one of Forum for the Future’s Pioneer Partners and is also a member of our Sustainable Business Models Group.