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  • Lorelia le Gouvello

When Bigfoot wants green hands: what is Net Positive?

Updated: Jan 14


According to forum for the future[1] , ‘net positive ‘means doing more good than harm, or in other words the potential for businesses to create positive impacts on society and the environment by putting back more into the global system than what was taken out.


Some summarise it with this equation: Footprint < Handprint,


As defined by Greg Norris[2] “if footprints are what we unavoidably take, handprints are what we intentionally give. Handprints represent the positive changes that something brings into the world, while the footprint is the planetary cost.”


What is interesting here is the fact that it recognises that “less bad is not good enough”. Plenty of companies have CSR strategies with ambitious targets to reduce their impacts; aligning for instance with the Science Based Targets of 2° C. However, these two simple words, “net positive”, question in a way the very essence of their actions which complex CSR strategies often fail to do and shed light on their true positive contribution to the world.


The lack of a common set of principles and of a clear methodology makes it difficult to measure and report on “net positive” impacts. Merely the interpretation of “net” could lead to controversy. Indeed, at times one gets the impression to be better off with a masters in lexicology as opposed to environmental physics when attempting to navigate the net positive project toolkit[3].


How is it even possible to come up with equivalencies to measure social, and environmental outcomes of an action?


As pointed out by Kathrin Winkler[4] in her pertinent commentary: "good and bad do not lend themselves to arithmetic”, and “transgressions are to be corrected irrespective of a company's positive contributions. They are not weights on a scale, neutralized by stacking good deeds against them “. It is true that if this was to become a framework for measuring businesses’ impacts it could certainly lead to excesses and misleading communication.


But what about using it as a thinking framework to encourage the elimination of the negative impacts and actively creating positive impacts?


These two words, “net positive”, are quite powerful at conveying in a very short way and in business terms the fact that an action should be looked at systematically with the aim of having an overall positive contribution. Putting the semantic and countless possible interpretations aside, it could be seen as a good starting point for shifting the thought process from pecuniary considerations to more altruistic ones by pushing individuals to question the overarching purpose of a project and its side effects.


So let’s be net positive and take a step back to be more intuitive and mindful of our footprints!

An example on how the traditional lean canvas could be revisited in a “net positive” project one:

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author

[1] Forum for the Future, Net Positive:how a new frame on sustainability can drive the outcomes we need by Sandra Seru, 12th October 2017 https://www.forumforthefuture.org/blog/net-positive-new-frame-on-sustainability-drive-outcomes

[2] Harvard faculty isight, Introducing Handprints: A Net-Positive Approach to Sustainability by Gregory A. Norris, https://www.extension.harvard.edu/introducing-handprints

[3] The Net Positive Project toolkit https://toolkit.netpositiveproject.org/corporatetoolkit

[4] GreenBiz, Why I’m negative on 'net positive' by Kathrin Winkler on the 4th January 2018 https://www.greenbiz.com/article/why-im-negative-net-positive

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