Net Positive ‘route map’ launched as signpost for business

The principles that should be applied if companies want to take a Net Positive approach to their business have been defined for the first time, as interest in this methodology grows.

Last December edie reported that a number of high-profile companies had signed up to a working group with NGOs to build a Net Positive movement – one of the first priorities being to establish a set of characteristics that could differentiate it from other sustainability drivers such as zero impact and the circular economy.

The platform, which is being facilitated by thinktank Forum for the Future, has released its first piece of work from these discussions and calls it ‘a route map to help businesses engage with the concept’.

The document sets out 12 principles which define Net Positive. These are as follows:


  • The organisation aims to make a positive impact in its key material areas 
  • The positive impact is clearly demonstrable if not measurable 
  • As well as aiming to have a positive impact in its key material areas, the organisation also shows best practice in corporate responsibility and sustainability across the spectrum of social, environmental and economic impact areas, in line with globally accepted standards 
  • The organisation invests in innovation in products and services, enters new markets, works across the value chain, and in some cases, challenges the very business model it relies on 
  • A Net Positive impact often requires a big shift in approach and outcomes, and cannot be achieved by business-as-usual 
  • Reporting on progress is transparent, consistent, authentic and independently verified where possible. Boundaries and scope are clearly defined and take account of both positive and negative impacts. Any trade-offs are explained 
  • Net Positive is delivered in a robust way and no aspect of a Net Positive approach compensates for unacceptable or irreplaceable natural losses or ill treatment of individuals and communities 
  • Organisations enter into wider partnerships and networks to create bigger positive impacts 
  • Every opportunity is used to deliver positive impacts across value chains, sectors, systems, and throughput to the natural world and society 
  • Organisations publicly engage in influencing policy for positive change 
  • Where key material areas are ecological, robust environmentally restorative and socially inclusive methods are applied 
  • An inclusive approach is adopted at every opportunity, ensuring affected communities are involved in the process of creating positive social and/or environmental impacts 

The principles outlined attempt to deal with a number of issues that came to light during the working group discussions. These centred around what should be included in a company’s footprint, where the boundaries of materiality lie, whether each impact should be dealt with separately or not, and how these impacts – both positive and negative – can be measured and compared.

Business benefits

The report authors acknowledge that the principles are quite theoretical. “They are necessarily high-level and it is not expected that all the principles will be applicable to every company, every geography and every impact. Nevertheless they offer a clear starting point and a checklist that can be used to ensure all key aspects are covered.” 

The benefits of a Net Positive approach are already being felt by businesses, including BT, Capgemini, Coca-Cola Enterprises, The Crown Estate, IKEA Group, Kingfisher and SKF.

BT’s chief sustainability officer Niall Dunne believes that the communications and information technology sector is well-placed to play a major role in building up momentum on this agenda.

Writing a foreword in the report, he said: “[Net Positive] enables our use of resources to become more efficient and drives the information-based transparency needed to root out waste and deliver savings.

“We won’t meet the goal through any one solution, but by working globally, nationally, locally and right down to individual consumer level; we plan to be a catalyst for innovation and growth.”

Maxine Perella

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