Positive impacts

Looking for positive impactsBack to the Pavan Sukhdev interview from a few days back – and some other ideas he raised that were interesting.

Corporations, he said, need to evolve their financial standards to keep pace with a changing world. Currently, they define success in terms of profit and loss, which is a 150 year old model. They now need to redesign the corporate performance system to keep pace with the realities of today’s externalities and that, Sukhdev says, means a move from shareholder capitalists to stakeholder capitalists and the commitment not just to manage and measure financial and physical assets for shareholders, but to measure and manage all impacts, including those on public assets. 10 years ago, he says, we simply couldn’t measure this. Now, we can.

He also called for a resource taxation rather than profit taxation and getting the financing balance right so that the world doesn’t have companies that are too big to fail.

One more thing. Accountable advertising. There was a real need, he said, to make advertising more accountable and more responsible because right now innovation is driving need (rather than the other way round, which is how it used to be). Specifically, Sukhdev said that instead of using ads just to sell, brands should be looking to inform through their advertising, and that such an explanation should disclose things about a product such as its lifecycle, the overall impact of its footprint and its provenance in terms of sourcing.

I think if you take his point less literally, the suggestion certainly opens up a powerfully responsible role for broader content creation. It suggests that instead of talking about what they are doing in reports and at a “corporate” level, brands (particularly globally scaled brands) should make available granular disclosure about the impacts that their products generate through their content forums.

All around the world, people are hard at work looking for ways to consume more responsibly. That commitment, as Sukhdev says, starts with changing the information and the emphasis on that information. A few weeks previously, the clever chaps at Futerra highlighted a new way of thinking about impacts that could complement Sukhdev’s call. Net Positive is about companies committing to actions that make a positive difference. They cite BT’s Net Good strategy that aims to save three times as much carbon as their entire business creates.

So, in the spirit of positive suggestions with the potential to be impactful, here are my four starters:

Imagine if organisations were to declare an “environmental dividend” that openly stated what they had saved investors as well as the world through specific actions at a product level. Now imagine if that saving were tax deductible …

Imagine if globally scaled organisations were to introduce “higher cost, lower impact” variants that only changed the end cost for the consumer by a few cents but that, when considered globally, added up to millions of tons of difference in materials saved in manufacturing.

Imagine if organisations were to “profit offset” by declaring what they had done to deliberately restrict supply in order to save resources.

Imagine if we thought of employment as a social responsibility and not just a financial responsibility. Could firms employ more people than they actually need as part of their commitment to communally responsible behaviour?

Yes, all of these ideas break ranks with how we do business now and indeed how we keep being told that business should be done. But isn’t that the point?

Photo of Positive Thinker by Leland Francisco, sourced from Flickr