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Balancing Sustainability and Profitability

Paul Polman and Feike Sijbesma share why it’s urgent for enterprises to make a net-positive impact on the world.

The Takeaways

1. “Net Positive” is a book co-authored by Paul Polman that advocates for a more sustainable business model to address planetary boundaries, inequality, and climate change. It emphasizes the need for a mindset change and increased focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to become a “Net Positive” company that takes responsibility for its total impact on the world.

2. Despite the existence of Sustainable Development Goals, many companies lagging behind in making a net positive impact. Paul noted that the gap is widening and that companies must take exponential action in response to an exponential problem. While companies are doing more on sustainability initiatives, their challenge is to accelerate and scale their efforts to achieve net positive outcomes.

3. To balance profitability and sustainability, companies must view them as complementary rather than conflicting goals. There is increasing evidence that sustainability drives profitability, and companies prioritizing sustainability can see significant savings. Feike Sijbesma believes that companies have a responsibility to contribute to a better world and that creativity can help make sustainability a core part of business models.

4. With supply chains being some of the biggest consumers of the Earth’s resources, supply chain sustainability is increasingly important. All parties in the supply chain need to collaborate and contribute together, according to Feike. For Paul, supply chain sustainability starts with leadership, which should view the entire supply chain holistically and end-to-end to find savings and opportunities for growth. Governments also have a role in driving sustainability by providing frameworks and regulations to encourage behavior change.

5. Technology can be an enabler and accelerator of sustainability efforts, according to both Paul and Feike. Technology provides transparency, monitoring, and predictive capabilities that help companies make informed decisions about circularity, waste, and vulnerabilities. Companies that want to be on the net positive track should prioritize vision, connecting with others, delivering results, and developing their people. Additionally, they should have insight into themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, the people they work with, and their society. Finally, leaders should have a strong sense of purpose and drive conversations about sustainability.

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