Development Crossing

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

Sustainability Goes Positive- But What's New

A new wave of sustainability strategies has emerged: the net positives. 2012 saw the launch of BT’s Net Good, IKEA’s People & Planet Positive, Kingfisher’s Net Positive, O2’s Think Big Blueprint and Pepsi’s Positive Water Impact. Ahead of the curve, Rio Tinto launched its Net Positive Impact biodiversity strategy in 2008. These promises of positive environmental and social impact sound quite different from previous aims of “zero negative impact” (Interface, Mission Zero, 1994), “carbon neutrality” (M&S, Plan A, 2007) and “decoupling” (Unilever, Sustainable Living Plan, 2010).


But do these positively-framed strategies actually represent a change in sustainability management? BT’s Net Good centres around creating more energy efficient products – not an approach that will necessarily mandate radical change at BT, which has been doing sustainability since 1990. But when framed in terms of helping customers to save emissions equivalent to three times the firm’s own impact, the goal sounds ambitious and exciting. Similarly, Kingfisher aims for all its products to enable an “ultimately net positive lifestyle” by 2050 – language that makes our ears prick up but arguably not a timeframe that will require change by current management.


These ambitious, positively packaged strategies reflect a shift in how firms communicate sustainability, rather than how they tackle it. Positive speaking helps to sell the concept of sustainability but the challenges around delivering results are the same as those faced by firms with strategies to reduce, neutralise and decouple impacts. The saying ‘old wine in new bottles’ comes to mind and corporates need to ensure that they can refute this with positive results.



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Views: 319

Comment by Dan Johnson on February 6, 2013 at 8:37pm

Great info.

Comment by chad on February 10, 2013 at 8:21pm

Corporations putting a "green ribbon" on thinks to sell more of their products and alleviate their social conscience. It is good though as they spend big bucks on advertising and regardless of what the corporations are actually doing, the advertising is reaching millions with the message of sustainability and change.  It is the advertising and awareness that will lead to real attitude changes in people which in turn will elicit real changes.  The fact that companies are promoting such sustainability "programs" also demonstrate that the ideology is becoming mainstream, which is also a very positive thing.

Comment by Francesca Macnaghten on February 11, 2013 at 7:25am

Thanks for the great comment Chad. We definitely agree and applaud companies for taking this proactive stance and there is great ambition in these strategies from a marketing perspective to engage and promote sustainability amongst mainstream consumers, which of course is a very positive thing. But firms also need to deliver on their net positive promises!


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