Businesses urged to deliver ‘net-positive’ sustainability plans

Businesses have been urged to push for 'net-positive' in order to bridge the gap between a 'probable future' deprived of natural assets and a 'preferred future' where companies can prosper as sustainable leaders.

Speaking today (19 November) at edie’s own Sustainable Leaders Forum in London, experts from Kering, Interface and Marshalls spoke of the need ‘take the road less travelled’ in promoting sustainability, as the delegates in attendance revealed that 73% do not have performance targets set in place beyond 2020. 

Speaking at the forum, Interface’s global VP and chief innovation officer Nigel Stansfield spoke of setting ‘impossible targets as a way that Interface has championed sustainability – noting the progress of Mission Zero – a goal to eliminate any negative impact its operations have on the environment by 2020.

“Strategic goals are often based on what is technically possible. We believe that this limits your vision to what is technically possible now. The way to push the boundaries is to set seemingly impossible targets. It moves you away from the ordinary, to widen the score and to look for alternatives.”

“Authentic leadership is taking the road less travelled and having courage to continue down that path when times get tough. Being trailblazers in the field is a challenge. There have been and there always will be successful failures, Interface has found that this sustainable business model has proved itself beyond all expectation.”

He said that becoming a sustainable leader could help firms improve their recruitment options.

“Attracting talent and cultivating culture of shared goals and values aligned to personal beliefs is where great leaders are looking to take their businesses.” Stansfield added. “Employees don’t come to work to make carpet tiles. They come to work to make a difference in the world.”

Optimal future

Also speaking at the forum was Chris Harrop, director of sustainability at Marshalls PLC who warned delegates that by 2020, 82bn tonnes of raw resources would be extracted from the earth, and that the Sustainable Development Goals would have to be implemented to change this.

Harrop said: “We need to develop an idea of a probable future. We need to map the major trends like climate change and demographics and the impacts that they have. We also have to develop our preferred future from a business perspective. If we can blend the two, which is where opportunity comes in, then businesses can be the most successful and the most sustainable.”

Harrop suggested mapping the future trends will be key to understanding the new markets and new customers that will evolve from greater life expectancy and migration. He noted that if businesses don’t take the initiative then there is a ‘real danger’ of governments taking control.

“My experience with sustainability is that every single time government starts to put legislation in place, it always goes horribly wrong, the carbon reduction commitment is a case in point.” He added.

Natural reliance

One of the tools that could be used to implement the championing of sustainability is the much talked about natural capital scheme. Trevor Hutchings, who recently told edie that businesses are “sawing off the branch on which they stand” by failing to account for the natural capital impacts, stated that many companies would go bankrupt if they were forced to pay for the natural capital they rely on.

One company, heavily invested in natural capital is apparel developers Kering. Director of sustainability operations Michael Beutler, who discussed the new Environmental Profit and Loss scheme that Kerring has developed, stated that the company would have to write a cheque of €793m to nature because of the natural resources they use.

Beutler said: “This is something we need to do as an industry and with other industries, because in 20 years these resources might not be there.

Matt Mace

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