It looks like you're visiting the GB site. Please choose another country or region to see content specific to your location.


COP26 Countdown: Reading ‘Net Positive’ by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston

  • Knowledge
COP26 Countdown: Reading ‘Net Positive’ by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston

The end of this month will see the UK hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 31 October–12 November 2021. The COP26 summit brings together parties to:

1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

Countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. To deliver on these stretching targets, countries will need to:
  • accelerate the phase-out of coal
  • curtail deforestation
  • speed up the switch to electric vehicles
  • encourage investment in renewables

2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

The climate is already changing and it will continue to change even as we reduce emissions, with devastating effects. At COP26 government, civil society and businesses need to work together to enable and encourage countries affected by climate change to:

  • protect and restore ecosystems
  • build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives

3. Mobilise finance

To deliver the first two goals, developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2020.
International financial institutions must play their part and work towards unleashing the trillions in private and public sector finance required to secure global net zero.

4. Work together to deliver

We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together.

The outcomes of COP26 must be:

  • finalise the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational)
  • accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.

The impacts of COP26 will be felt by businesses – and luxury is not exempt – for years to come. The decisions that are going to be made will inform legislation across the world and set the sustainability agenda. To help luxury businesses prepare for incoming change, Positive Luxury Co-Founder Diana Verde Nieto is directing businesses towards articles, books, and resources that can help them think differently about how to migrate to a low carbon economy and to truly make sustainability a competitive advantage now and in years to come.

This week we start with ‘Net Positive’, the latest book by Positive Luxury Awards Judge and former Unilever CEO Paul Polman and sustainable business guru Andrew Winston.

Positive Luxury have always believed that businesses have a crucial role to play to driving us towards a Net Zero society. In ‘Net Positive’ Paul Polman and Positive Luxury Sustainability Council member Andrew Winston explore and expand on that idea, arguing that in order to succeed businesses must become ‘net positive’ – giving more to the world than they take from it.
The book can be seen as a guidebook for businesses that are looking to deliver that kind of change, setting out a blueprint that they can use to transform themselves into a force for good. This is ambitious:
  • more big corporations actively taking carbon out of the air, or food and agriculture companies regenerating soil and restoring biodiversity.
  • tech giants promoting truth, strengthening democracy and encouraging their customers to make healthier, more sustainable and more ethical choices.
  • manufacturers paying living wages to employees around the world and investing in their communities, at home and abroad.
  • banks and hedge funds financing only clean technologies and serving the poor, not just the rich.

Speaking to Positive Luxury, Andrew Winston said, ‘If CSR, or corporate social responsibility, is about business being “less bad”, and companies trying to be “green” and having “net zero” climate targets is about being neutral and doing “no harm”, Net Positive is about being better. Specifically, leaving our planet, economy and societies in a better state for our children and grandchildren. It’s ambitious, but we know momentum is building. More and more companies see their future in fixing the world’s problems, not creating them. This is where long-term value and business success lie. A record and fast-growing number are adopting climate targets and strategies. Almost half the world’s assets under management – $43tr – are now committed to slashing emissions. More than ever, CEOs are taking stands on important issues, from living wages to immigration, racial cohesion and LGBTQ rights. Everywhere, employees and young people are increasingly demanding change and holding leaders to account. So we are accelerating in this direction – just not as fast as our challenges demand. That’s why we wrote Net Positive, to help companies and industries move at speed and with scale. Ultimately, we’re working to build a Net Positive movement.’

The world is currently confronting the massive dual challenges of the climate crisis and inequality, which are only compounded by other shifts like pandemics, dwindling resources, and shrinking biodiversity. Businesses have a moral and fiscal responsibility to help with solving these issues and support the push for a clean economy. The book’s argument aligns with Positive Luxury’s view that these are not roadblocks – instead they must be treated like the opportunities they are, as businesses can prosper by solving them.

Paul Polman was perhaps one of the most disruptive CEO’s in Unilever history. He drove sustainable change and, in this book reveals key lessons from his time there and from other pioneering companies around the world. The main argument of the book is that a net positive company ‘improves the lives of everyone it touches, from customers and suppliers to employees and communities, greatly increasing long-term shareholder returns in the process.

That goal can be achieved, broadly speaking, in one – or all – of these four ways:

  • They can choose to operate in service of multiple stakeholders instead of putting their shareholders above all others
  • They can rethink their relationship with governments and use that to tackle systemic challenges
  • They can take full ownership of all company impacts
  • And they can embrace deep partnerships, even with their critics

The good news is that addressing those challenges presents a huge economic opportunity for luxury businesses. COP26 is sure to throw up questions about the role that businesses play in society – whether they are contributing enough, the need for them to lower their greenhouse gases emissions, and it’s likely to produce legislation that will force them to act differently. Large or small, luxury organisations need to start thinking about how they can answer these questions and what role they can play in creating a Net Positive society.

Written by - Jacob Corner

Related articles

Become a positive luxury brand

Whether you are a brand, supplier or retailer, you are just one step away from beginning your journey to earn the Butterfly Mark. Start the process today or contact us for a preliminary chat. We would love to hear from you.

Start your journey