The term NETpositive sustainability created a real buzz during 2013 with the shift away from talking about reducing negative impacts towards a focus on the positive aspects striking a real chord. Sustainability professionals have, however, quite rightly raised concerns about this shift which, if not correctly managed, could become the marketing professional’s dream but the planet’s nightmare!
So where exactly did this term come from? Is it a useful addition to the language of sustainability?
And, what are the implications for our institutions?
The approach was pioneered by a UK university as the very first NETpositive Sustainability Strategies were developed simultaneously in 2011 by Becker Underwood in the US and Oxford Brookes University.
Working with myself, a director at NETpositive Futures, these pioneering organisations focused on an in-depth and robust approach to understanding their impacts. The positive and negative; the social, environmental and economic impacts were considered in tandem. Plans were then established to reduce the negative impacts and enhance the positive. The term ‘NETpositive’ emerged from this approach as the driving mission was to demonstrate an impact that was overall ‘net positive’.
Taking a partnership approach is key
Taking a partnership approach to developing innovative sustainability strategies, using insights from both the corporate and academic arenas, was an innovative one resulting in mutual benefit. Although the original partnership has now run its natural course, this central approach remains part of an ongoing strategy for delivering innovation.
NETpositive Futures has now been established to ensure that the NETpositive approach can be fully realised and our partnership with the Stockholm Environment Institute is already putting a sound evidence base at the heart of our work.
Together we have been looking at whether it is really possible to make the bold and visionary statement that our positive impacts outweigh our negative ones, and how this can be robustly demonstrated by an organisation or individual.
We are determined that this new language can really add value by interrogating the positive and negative impacts as well as being an easy to communicate engagement and reporting tool.
We are confident that if any organisation is truly able to verify it has a NETpositive Impact then it is likely to be a university. Our confidence comes from knowing the sector well and understanding the hard work that goes into reducing negative impacts as well as the staggering positive contributions that these institutions make.
We have been piloting our NETpositive Student tool with some of the UK’s leading institutions. This interactive tool supports students to explore their own impacts and develop a personalised NETpositive action plan linked to institutional priorities.
Institutions who have been using the NETpositive Student tool as part of their student engagement will share their learning with the sector at the NETpositive Conference: Pathways to Transformation on 27 February in York, where we will also be launching the NETpositive Staff tool which uses the same approach to engage institutional staff.
This tool has been developed with the Universities of Leeds and Manchester and takes sustainability beyond the ‘keen greens’ and into a new world of the empowered professional.
As well as this institutional approach we are supporting individual members of staff working in sustainability to develop their skills and strengthen their networks with a series of training packages for sustainability practitioners, specialists and leaders.
For more information visit www.netpositivefutures.co.uk