2015 was a landmark year for sustainable development. Following the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, we saw the universal, legally binding Paris agreement to try and limit global warming to 1.5°C. The world now has a clear, shared vision of a future that can end poverty, reduce inequality and avert the destructive effects of a global temperature rise.

There has never been a better time for business to be bold and ambitious when it comes to sustainability. This means a shift from being simply less bad, to becoming Net Positive. Organisations need to act across traditional business boundaries and systems to rapidly restore the environment and create a thriving society. It’s time for business to put back more into society, the environment, and the global economy than it takes out.


The Net Positive Project


We have created a 5 year vision of a successful Net Positive movement, and a roadmap for how we can get there. In five years’ time, we want to see a critical mass of companies that have successfully executed Net Positive initiatives which are delivering on the environment and society, plus hundreds of organisations making new Net Positive commitments. We want Net Positive to be a credible, standard way for companies to quantify, assess and enhance their positive impacts. Net Positive will be the next wave of corporate sustainability.

Critically, the commitments and actions taken by Net Positive companies will be aligned with other important sustainability movements, such as the circular economy. This will ensure a thriving movement that optimises resources invested, and creates acceleration and additionality, not duplication.


We want to create a race to the top, where ambition levels are raised higher and higher, nature’s depleted assets are replenished, business creates ever more societal value, and new ways of value creation are unlocked.

In the first year, Net Positive Project will focus on three main initiatives:

  • Net Positive Principles: Expand, refine, and agree on Net Positive defining principles and a theory of change.
  • Net Positive Methodology: Build on existing work to develop how to scope, measure, and communicate Net Positive outcomes.
  • Case Study Methodology: Create a standardised approach for companies to develop case studies describing how products and services contribute to social and environmental progress.


Forum for the Future and BSR, together with Gregory A. Norris, co-director of The Sustainability and Health Initiative (SHINE), have brought together a unique coalition of organisations including AMD, AT&T, Capgemini, The Crown Estate, Dell, Dow, Eaton, Fetzer Vineyards, HPE, HumanScale, Kimberly-Clark Foundation, Kingfisher, Kohler and Owens Corning, who have all made, or are considering, ground-breaking commitments to become Net Positive.

The three convenors will all build on a proud heritage of activity in the Net Positive space.

BSR brings insights and robust research into Net Positive delivery, especially from the IT sector, as well as practical experience of developing collaborations with business and stakeholders to generate tangible impact and business results.

Greg Norris brings his experience from the SHINE project of developing “handprinting” methodologies which companies can use to measure and improve their positive impact on society, as well as leading a robust methodological basis for Net Positive assessment. 


Forum for the Future brings experience of working to define the Net Positive concept, as well as a systems-based approach, with experience of bringing together diverse companies to address common challenges.  In 2014, along with WWF, The Climate Group, BT, Capgemini, Dell, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue, Ikea, Kingfisher, Pepsico, SKF, The Crown Estate and TUI Group, Forum published 12 principles that characterise a Net Positive approach. The group then turned its attention to developing a Net Positive measurement framework to measure outcomes accurately and consistently, and provided guidance on how to communicate an organisation’s approach in a clear and compelling way.


Lessons Learned

I’ve been involved in Net Positive since 2012, when I worked with Kingfisher on its ground-breaking Net Positive strategy. I’ve learnt quite a lot on the way, including:

  • Listen to your own advice. I spend a lot of time urging business to collaborate to tackle shared challenges.  Oddly, collaboration is less common in the NGO and academic worlds. That’s why it’s been so important to create Net Positive as an umbrella, not an island. Collaborating first with WWF UK and The Climate Group, and now with BSR and Greg Norris from SHINE means that we are accelerating the overall pace of change, not slowing it down. 
  • The first step on the Net Positive journey is a mind-set shift. Changing the narrative from one of minimisation here, doing less bad there, to creating a Net Positive impact, unlocks untold ambition, and is a brilliant stimulus for innovation.
  • Metrics have their limits. Of course it is important to be able to measure impacts, but when these impacts can’t be described with off-the-shelf methodology, there is a point where the 80:20 rule needs to kick in.
  • Trade-offs are not allowed! Creating a positive impact in one area is not an excuse for ignoring a negative impact in another. The original 12 principles speak to two non-negotiables. The first, no aspect of a Net Positive approach can compensate for unacceptable or irreplaceable natural losses, or ill-treatment of individuals or communities. The second, underpinning a Net Positive commitment is best practice across the spectrum of social, environmental and economic impact areas.

Net Positive really could be the means by which we accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. As stakeholders and the private sector realise the potential of the SDGs and COP21 agreement, Net Positive could be a powerful approach to generating and assessing results. We hope that the the Net Positive Project will be seen as the authoritative, ambitious group that can lead by example.

To make our vision a reality, we need more companies to join us. So if you have already made your own Net Positive commitments, are considering making them, or you are interested in the concept, you can find more information here.  To speak to Forum's Associate Director of Net Positive, Ben Kellard, follow the blue box below!

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