The business world is undergoing a powerful shift. It’s a shift beyond “responsible business” to optimism. A shift to expecting more of businesses than profitability and stakeholder engagement. It’s a way of thinking of business as a mechanism to deliver positive impacts, and a way to solve bigger problems. At Interface, we’re excited about this shift to positive business.
Positive business as an approach is still evolving. An exact definition doesn’t exist yet, but some important principles are emerging. The Net Positive Project is a collaboration of corporations, the World Wildlife Fund and Forum for the Future who are mapping out an approach to positive and its key principles.
In higher education the conversation is evolving through initiatives like the Positive Business project at the University of Michigan. Through scholarship and conferences intended to foster adoption, this approach is sharing early thinking, principles, and best practices.
Ideas from both these initiatives align with Interface’s early thinking on how to shift to a positive business. One powerful principle is the idea of partnerships and how important it is that companies form relationships with other organizations to create bigger positive impacts. We’ve not only seen the power of partnerships to amplify our impact in our explorations of positive business, but we find it to be essential.
Our Net-Works® project is a great example of making a positive impact. At its heart, Net-Works is a partnership with an NGO (the Zoological Society of London), a global yarn manufacturer (Aquafil), Interface and local communities in the Philippines. These partners came together to create an innovative supply chain program that harvests used fishing nets from the Danajon Bank as a source for recycled yarn for Aquafil, and ultimately Interface. Without the expertise, reach and resources of these organizations, Interface would not have been able to create a program that aspires to impact one million people by 2020.
It’s the last member of the partnership (the local communities) that also illustrates another really important principle of being a positive business – creating an inclusive approach. More specifically, this means ensuring that affected communities are involved in creating the positive effects. By working to make Net-Works a program that involves local community members in the design and governance of the program and pays them for the net collection, Net-Works is creating a powerful new model of inclusive business.
Another pilot project we’re exploring at Interface illustrates a final principle important for positive businesses, which is a restorative approach. This means making sure the environmental implications of our business are not just about being less bad, but striving to have restorative environmental impacts. This thinking is showing up in a project we’ve created with Biomimicry 3.8 and named “Factory as a Forest.” The project explores how we might run our global factory locations in a way that enriches the local communities like a forest does. It sounds metaphorical, but we’re creating standards modeled on services of local ecosystems that will give us measurable goals and targets.
It’s an exciting time to be exploring what a positive business means and we invite you to join the conversation.