A Future-Fit Society protects the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever, by being environmentally restorative, socially just and economically inclusive.
If we are to realize this vision, every business must strive to reach the Future-Fit Break‑Even Goals, to ensure it is doing nothing to undermine society’s progress toward future-fitness.219 In today’s economy, this might seem like an extremely ambitious destination to aim for, but it is a necessary one, because the only way to shift the system is if everyone plays their part.
However, business has the power to do more than just cause no harm, and indeed many companies actively seek to be a force for good in the world by working to solve systemic challenges – even if they have not yet addressed all of their negative externalities.
Positive Pursuits are designed to guide such efforts, by characterizing the full range of outcomes that actively speed up our collective progress toward future-fitness. Figure 1 offers a high-level description of the kinds of activity that are classified as Positive Pursuits, and how they complement the Break-Even Goals.
Figure 1: The relationship between Break-Even Goals (bottom-left) and Positive Pursuits.
A note on “purpose”
Many companies today claim to be purpose-driven or purposeful, but what does this really mean? Given the urgency and complexity of the challenges we face, it might be argued that a corporate purpose is only really fit for purpose if it tightly couples a company’s success with that of society. One should treat with scepticism any company claiming to be purpose-driven if it struggles to articulate how its core business model will drive progress toward an environmentally restorative, socially just and economically inclusive future.
Positive Pursuits identify all of the ways in which a business may contribute to a Future-Fit Society. They therefore provide the means for any company to refine its stated purpose, and to stress-test just how progressive it is. Furthermore, Positive Pursuits can be used by today’s true leaders to explain exactly why their continued success is in society’s best interest. Making this link explicit is becoming increasingly important, because more and more investors are seeking to steer their capital toward those companies with a credible plan to be part of the solution, rather than just a smaller part of the problem.
All outcomes described by the Positive Pursuits can be delivered in a variety of ways – for instance, through inclusive business models, innovative products tailored to underserved customers, or active investment in supply chain improvements. Specific examples are provided throughout this guide, and the Products and Projects section offers additional guidance on the ways in which Positive Pursuits may be undertaken.
1.1 How to use this guide
The purpose of this guide is to help any company identify, pursue, assess and report on the types of activity which serve to speed up society’s transition to future-fitness, beyond what is required to eliminate its own negative impacts.
In contrast to the Break-Even Goals, not all Positive Pursuits will be relevant to every company. Instead of pursuing them all, each company should explore where it can deliver the greatest gains, given its industry, business model, core competencies, and ability to influence others.
If a company wishes to report publicly on its Positive Pursuits, it must do so in the context of its progress toward the Break-Even Goals. This is because until a company can verify that it is causing no harm across its entire business, any positive impacts it delivers are almost certainly coming at the cost of negative impacts elsewhere – however unintentional they might be. Hence any attempt to focus the narrative only on positive contributions risks exposing the company to accusations of greenwashing, and prevents stakeholders from accurately gauging how well the company is responding to social and environmental risks.
1.2 What “Positive Pursuit” means
Figure 2: The seven core properties of a Future-Fit Society, plus an eighth enabling property, which identifies the socioeconomic drivers required to pursue the others.
Activities whose outcomes serve only to reduce a company’s own negative impact are recognized as progress toward the Break-Even Goals (see Figure 1). Positive Pursuits encompass any activity beyond this, whose outcome brings society closer to reaching one of the aforementioned properties.221 As Figure 1 outlines, there are three broad ways in which a company can do this:
- Create positive impact itself, by:
- Restoring the environment through its own operational activities; or
- Removing barriers to wellbeing for people beyond those the company is wholly accountable for.222
- Reduce the negative impact of others, by:
- Enabling others to avoid degrading the environment; or
- Enabling others to remove barriers to wellbeing for people they are wholly accountable for.
- Amplify the positive impact of others, by:
- Enabling others to restore the environment; or
- Enabling others to remove barriers to wellbeing for people beyond those they are wholly accountable for.
The 24 Positive Pursuits (see Figure 3) translate these types of activities into specific actionable categories. Each one identifies a type of positive outcome that may be delivered in a range of ways, in and beyond a company’s value web.
Note that Positive Pursuits relate to a subset of outcomes that might be considered ‘good’ on some level. Handing out free ice cream to customers might bring them joy, and providing tickets to sporting events for employees may support team bonding. However, such outcomes do not make society more environmentally restorative, socially just or economically inclusive, and so they fall outside the scope of systemic improvement considered here.
Positive Pursuits and Break-Even Goals are not always mutually exclusive
Some activities may be classified as a Positive Pursuit while also resulting in progress toward a Break-Even Goal. That is because companies are mutually accountable for certain kinds of impact across their value web. See the box below for an example.
Undertaking Positive Pursuits while striving to reach Break-Even
Consider a company that relies on a supplier of agricultural inputs operating in an arid region. Every purchase the company makes depends on the supplier using water, so the company is indirectly exacerbating local water stress, albeit unintentionally.
The company could simply drop that supplier and switch to one in a non-water-stressed region. This would avoid the problem – and thus improve the company’s progress toward the Procurement Break-Even Goal – but it would not address it. The original supplier would still be contributing to water stress, through its service of other customers.
An alternative course of action would be for the company to offer financial and/or technical support to enable the supplier to reduce its reliance on the local watershed, for example by providing rain water storage tanks and drip irrigation systems. This kind of active intervention addresses the underlying problem, because the company is helping another business to avoid environmental degradation. As a result, the company’s activity would be recognized as a Positive Pursuit, and the knock-on effect would be an improvement in its progress toward the Procurement Break-Even Goal.
The need to take a holistic perspective
Positive Pursuits should not be thought of as isolated activities conducted in a vacuum, but rather as systemic interventions involving coordinated action among multiple actors, where the company is just one of many participants.223 These are generally complex endeavours, which demand holistic planning.
Every potential course of action to undertake a Positive Pursuit should be subject to a holistic assessment of likely trade-offs in order to understand potential system-wide consequences, and to minimize the risk of unintended side effects. For more information, see this frequently asked question.
In addition, a company should be careful to measure and manage all types of outcomes that result from its Positive Pursuits, both positive and negative. This will be further explained in the Assessment section.
1.3 Introducing the Positive Pursuits
- Each Positive Pursuit is expressed as one sentence, whose meaning can be grasped by business leaders, investors and other key stakeholders without lengthy explanation.
- Each Positive Pursuit identifies a way either to reverse the effects of negative environmental or social impacts that occurred in the past, or to help others avoid having such negative impacts in the future.
- Each Positive Pursuit relates to one type of outcome which can be delivered in or beyond the company’s value web.
Positive Pursuits do not prescribe specific actions.They are more like categories used to capture similar outcomes that may accrue from a wide range of different actions.
It is also worth noting that one activity may result in outcomes that span two or more Positive Pursuits. For instance, a company might provide solar lanterns to a rural community, which was previously using kerosene lamps and wasn’t connected to an electric grid. This activity might lead to less need for kerosene, and a decrease in respiratory-related diseases caused by the emissions it produces. These outcomes would be captured under the Positive Pursuits Others depend less on non-renewable energy, More people have access to energy and More people are healthy and safe from harm.
Figure 3: The Future-Fit Positive Pursuits.
An example of the many ways in which a Positive Pursuit may be undertaken
Very different kinds of activity may contribute to the same Positive Pursuit. For example, a company might contribute to the Positive Pursuit Greenhouse gases are removed from the atmosphere by:
- Evolving its own production processes to achieve net CO2 sequestration.
- Selling a product which enables users to sequester CO2.
- Purchasing a manufacturing input from a supplier whose production process results in net CO2 sequestration.
- Supporting an organization working to restore natural carbon sinks which facilitate CO2 sequestration, such as the Amazon rainforest.
1.4 How Positive Pursuits relate to the SDGs
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a call for action to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. But while the SDGs identify at a broad level what society needs to thrive, many companies are struggling to operationalize them and to articulate their contributions. Positive Pursuits can help to overcome this problem.
Each Positive Pursuit represents a type of outcome which may support one or more SDGs (see Figure 3), and which any business may seek to deliver. Hence they offer a lens through which a company can identify and communicate how it is contributing both to broad SDG themes – such as poverty alleviation, gender equality and climate resilience – as well as to specific SDG targets. For more information and an example, see the box below.
An example of links between Positive Pursuits and the SDGs
Climate resilience – the “ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to hazardous events, trends or disturbances related to climate”  – is a theme touched on multiple times across SDG 1, 2, 11 and 13. For instance, SDG target 13.1 is Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries. A company could contribute to this target in many ways, for example by:
- Preventing the degradation of ecosystems which act as natural flood defences;
- Increasing the capacity of farmers to grow drought-resistant crops;
- Offering insurance to underserved people whose livelihood may be adversely impacted by increases in severe weather events; or
- Mobilising investment into climate-resilient infrastructure.
These activities are captured by different Positive Pursuits. That said, a company could contribute to those same Positive Pursuits in ways which might not relate to climate resilience. Note that additional guidance for determining when and why there is a specific link between a Positive Pursuit and an SDG target is under development.
For example, a company might act to remove greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere, or to enable others to eliminate their own GHGs. Such activities would be classed as a Positive Pursuit. But if a company were to act only to reduce its own operational GHGs, any improvement would count instead as progress toward the Break-Even Goal Operations emit no greenhouse gases.↩︎
A company is wholly accountable for ensuring it does not undermine the wellbeing of its workers, the communities affected by its physical presence, or the users of its goods and services. See the Methodology Guide for details on what a company is wholly and mutually accountable for, and why.↩︎
Even an initiative that seems to fall completely within the company’s control – such as developing an innovative new product line which promises to meet a basic need – may require new forms of marketing, new distribution channels, new sales incentives, new ownership/leasing models, and so on.↩︎