Kingfisher, one of Europe’s largest home improvement retailers, was the first business of its size to receive full certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). But, explains Nick Folland, formerly the company’s legal and corporate responsibility director, Kingfisher aspires to create a net positive impact on the environment by “putting more back in than we take out.” Now the group corporate affairs director for the Net Positive plan, Folland is leading the company’s groundbreaking collaborative effort.
What if companies were to put more resources into the environment than they take out? That’s the question underlying Kingfisher’s Net Positive strategy. The Net Positive plan seeks to change Kingfisher’s business model to practices that produce a net positive environmental impact — and implementing it is no small challenge. Take forests, for example. Kingfisher already sources 86% of its timber from responsibly managed forests, and aims to increase that to 100% by 2020. This strategy has a positive impact on natural forests by ensuring that destructive techniques such as clear-cutting are avoided. To truly be “net positive,” however, Kingfisher also needs to consider how it sources non-timber products like leather and palm oil, which can be produced in ways that contribute to tropical deforestation, so that gains in one area aren’t offset by problems in another. As if this weren’t challenging enough, Kingfisher is simultaneously attempting to drive a massive change in consumer behavior. It seeks to introduce new “closed loop” products, which will be completely reused and recycled so they never enter the waste stream. The company also aims to rent or lease some products, instead of selling them, which would reduce consumption of resources while providing the same level of service to customers. MIT Sloan Management Review guest contributing editor Hannah Clark Steiman spoke to Nick Folland, the company’s legal and corporate responsibility director, about the challenges of developing and implementing the Net Positive plan.
What is “Net Positive”?
Our expectation is that we will put more resources back into the earth than we take out, not just do “less bad.” The reason it’s core to what we do at Kingfisher is because our corporate purpose and aspiration is to give people better homes and better lives. We’re convinced that, going forward, a better home and a better life must be one that is sustainable in the long term. So it’s about tying sustainability to our core business purpose. That’s what makes us think it’s a new way of doing business and not just a typical corporate social responsibility strategy.
How did it come about?
We’ve been looking at the whole area of sustainability for 20 years or so.