Sustaining isn’t enough any more. Businesses that have joined the corporate net positive movement seek to put more back into society and the environment than they take out.
“Net positive is what I see as the next step in the evolution of corporate responsibility,” says Josh Prigge, founder and CEO of the sustainability consulting firm Sustridge, and host of the Sustainable Nation Podcast.
Before starting his own practice, Prigge directed sustainability and regenerative development for Fetzer Vineyards in Northern California. He helped the winemaker go carbon neutral, become the first Zero Waste certified company in the world in 2014, and get certified as a B Corp in 2015. The vineyard also won an Environmental Leader award last year for their regenerative wastewater treatment system.
Prigge served as a judge for this year’s awards and spoke about moving beyond sustainability at this year’s Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference. We sat down with him to find out what net positive means for businesses.
How did the net positive movement emerge?
We started back in the ’80s with corporate philanthropy. A lot of that was PR-driven. In the ’90s that moved to corporate social responsibility, when triple bottom line came about. Companies were taking good works projects and bringing them in-house.
That evolved in the 2000s to corporate sustainable development and corporate sustainability, when companies were realizing that they could create a competitive advantage with a commitment to sustainability. Now basically every Fortune 500 company has a sustainability department.
The next step is corporate regenerative development. We’re starting to see the idea of being restorative and regenerative as a company.
What does that mean exactly?
Rather than just minimizing our negative impacts, regenerative development is about eliminating those negative impacts and actively creating positive impacts —regenerating, restoring, and revitalizing ecosystems and communities.
If your company is focused on this idea, the goal would be to get to a point where you’re net positive. You have a positive corporate footprint. Net positive is about an entity, a business making the world a better place.
The Net Positive Project is an organization that’s been developed around this idea. It’s led by the nonprofits Forum for the Future, BSR, and Shine. They’ve brought together many businesses including Fetzer, AT&T, Dell, Target, and Levi Strauss.
They’re working together to define what a net positive company looks like, how to measure and track progress toward net positive, how to communicate that to customers and stakeholders, and what that means in different industries.
What is the business case for net positive?
It’s similar to making the business case for sustainability. When you’re starting a program for a company you talk about risk mitigation. As that program evolves, as your commitment grows and you implement more sustainable practices, you’re going to start to see an enhanced workforce, more engaged employees, employee retention, things like that.
As you continue to evolve it, you’re going to see cost reductions. Then at the end of that spectrum, as you work toward net positive, you’re starting to see new business models and innovation within your business.
What are some examples of companies taking steps to become net positive?
You’re seeing companies work on carbon emissions — how can we actually sequester more carbon than we emit? Fetzer is a good example. They’re starting to measure the amount of carbon that is being sequestered in their vineyards through regenerative agriculture practices and what practices to implement. Jackson Family Wines is also doing great work in that area.
Coca-Cola is doing work around water, and they have achieved water neutrality. They’ve offset all the water that they use in their products. Patagonia is developing a certification for agriculture to certify a farm as regenerative.
Where do you see the net positive movement heading in the future?
The companies that are recognized as sustainability leaders will also be leading in this net positive area because they’re realizing that being less bad is not going to be enough to address the major global issues we’re facing.
There is a lot of great work being done right now by businesses, but frankly it’s not enough. It’s time to restore, revitalize, and regenerate our ecosystems and communities.
Josh Prigge spoke about the net positive movement at the 2018 Environmental Leader Conference & Energy Manager Summit in Denver.