2. The Positive Pursuits

2.1 Energy

In a Future-Fit Society, energy is renewable and available to all.

With respect to energy, a company may contribute to a Future-Fit Society by acting to ensure that:

  • Others depend less on non-renewable energy; or
  • More people have access to energy.

PP01: Others depend less on non-renewable energy

Most of the world’s energy is currently derived from non-renewable resources.225 As a result, a large proportion of the global population relies on energy that contributes to environmental degradation when it is obtained and/or used.

People’s reliance on non-renewable energy is reduced when:

  • More renewable energy is available to replace non-renewable alternatives.
  • Others are able to meet their needs using less energy.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might install and maintain a grid-connected wind farm in a region where electricity is generated predominantly by coal-fired power stations, and then sell this new electricity at standard market rates. A positive outcome would be an increase in the mix of renewable energy in the grid, translating into reduced demand for coal power.

Alternatively, a company might develop a much less energy-intensive way of producing a widely-used chemical and license the approach to other major producers. A positive outcome would be a reduction in the annual energy consumption of those companies.

PP02: More people have access to energy

A large proportion of the global population simply does not have sufficient access to energy to meet their daily needs.226

More people are adequately served when:

  • Previously underserved people gain reliable and affordable access to both clean cooking facilities and electricity.227

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company may provide community-level micro-grids to remote villages that are not served by national energy grids. A positive outcome would be increased access to renewable energy for the villagers.

Alternatively, a company may provide funding to connect an underserved population directly to the national energy grid. A positive outcome would be increased access to energy for this group of people.

Why is this Positive Pursuit not explicitly focused on renewable energy?

In a Future-Fit Society, everyone will have access to reliable forms of renewable energy. However, if energy is provided to people who previously had none, then a major barrier to their wellbeing is being removed, even if that energy is derived from non-renewable sources. This is an important outcome which should be recognized – while acknowledging that it is a less-than-perfect interim step toward full access to renewable energy.

Note also that if a company were to generate more greenhouse gas emissions as a result of providing such access to energy, or were to cause its customers to do so, then those side-effects would be captured as a negative contribution to the Break-Even Goals Operations emit no greenhouse gases and Products emit no greenhouse gases, respectively.

There are many ways to achieve a positive outcome, and even the most well-meaning activity may lead to negative outcomes elsewhere. Hence it is important to take a holistic approach when both planning and assessing the results of a company’s Positive Pursuits. For more information, see this frequently asked question.

2.2 Water

In a Future-Fit Society, water is responsibly sourced and available to all.

With respect to water, a company may contribute to a Future-Fit Society by acting to ensure that:

  • Others contribute less to water stress; or
  • More people have access to clean water.

PP03: Others contribute less to water stress

It is forecast that by 2025, two thirds of the world’s population will live under conditions of water stress – and growing demand will only serve to exacerbate this. [20]

People’s reliance on stressed watersheds is reduced when:

  • More clean water is made available without exacerbating water stress; or
  • Others are able to meet their needs using less water.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might provide financial and technical support to install a rainwater harvesting system for an agricultural supplier operating in a water-stressed region, with the intention of reducing the supplier’s burden on the local watershed while increasing supply security. A positive outcome would be a reduction in depletion rates of local aquifers, translating into greater water security for both the supplier and local communities.

Alternatively, a company could build an innovative water treatment plant which turns contaminated wastewater into clean, potable water. A positive outcome would be an increase in the amount of clean water available without exacerbating water stress.

PP04: More people have access to clean water

Many people today lack sufficient access to clean water to fulfil their basic needs such as drinking, cooking and sanitation.

More people are adequately served when:

  • Previously underserved people gain access to clean and reliable freshwater.228

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might develop water purification tablets, which make non-potable water safe to drink and donate these tablets to communities in drought-stricken areas. A positive outcome would be an increase in access to potable water for local residents.

Alternatively, a company might install a water pipeline which links a remote rural area to a water reservoir in a water-abundant area. A positive outcome would be increased access to clean and responsibly-sourced water for those who would otherwise be underserved.

2.3 Natural resources

In a Future-Fit Society, natural resources are managed to safeguard communities, animals and ecosystems

All types of natural resource – be they mined, cultivated, or harvested from the wild – must be responsibly managed, in order to ensure their continued availability for future generations, and to prevent damage to supporting ecosystems and communities.

Plant-based resources must be grown on suitable land, in soil the health of which is maintained, and without the use of harmful chemicals. Animals must be reared or hunted in ways that minimize suffering. Renewable resources must be harvested at rates which protect their ability to regenerate. Mined resources must be extracted in ways that leave no lasting negative impact on the area, in particular with respect to biodiversity and community wellbeing.

With respect to natural resources, a company may contribute to a Future-Fit Society by acting to ensure that:

  • Others depend less on inadequately-managed natural resources.

Why is there no Positive Pursuit focused on access to natural resources?

Unlike energy and water, natural resources in their raw form are not a basic need, since a relatively small proportion of people require direct access to them. For this reason, there is not a Positive Pursuit category which refers specifically to natural resource access.

However, it is important to keep in mind that all socioeconomic actors rely on goods and services which are ultimately derived from natural resources. So if a company were to offer a new product which embeds only responsibly-managed natural resources – to displace market alternatives which embed inadequately-managed natural resources – this outcome would be covered by Others depend less on inadequately-managed natural resources (in this case “Others” would be the customers of the improved product).

Note also that access to natural resources by local communities – through control and/or ownership of land rights – would be captured under the separate Positive Pursuit More people have access to economic opportunity.

PP05: Others depend less on inadequately-managed natural resources

The majority of the world’s natural resources are managed in ways that undermine people’s wellbeing or disrupt the environment.229 This means that goods and services offered all over the world are premised on inadequately-managed natural resources.

People’s reliance on inadequately-managed natural resources is reduced when:

  • More responsibly-managed natural resources are harvested, mined or extracted to increase the amount available to others;
  • A natural resource which was being managed in a disruptive way is transformed to be responsibly-managed;
  • Fewer goods and services are derived from endangered or threatened flora and fauna; or
  • Less natural resource is required to serve the same needs.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might license a production technique for growing high-grade synthetic diamonds which can compete on price and quality with natural diamonds. A positive outcome would be others avoiding ecosystem disruption caused by mining.

Alternatively, a company might provide training to smallholder farmers on techniques which can replace monoculture and prevent topsoil erosion. A positive outcome would be the transformation of degenerative farming techniques into regenerative ones.

2.4 Pollution

In a Future-Fit Society, the environment is free from pollution.

Many substances – if emitted as pollution into the air, water or soil – undermine the health of people or that of the natural systems we depend upon. This includes substances that degrade air quality, water quality, or soil health, substances which are likely to build up in nature230, and substances which otherwise disrupt the health of people, organisms and ecosystems.

With respect to emissions, a company may contribute to a Future-Fit Society by acting to ensure that:

  • Others generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Greenhouse gases are removed from the environment;
  • Others generate fewer harmful emissions; or
  • Harmful emissions are removed from the environment.

Note that greenhouse gas emissions are so significant (due to their impact on global warming) that they have their own Positive Pursuit categories.

PP06: Others generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions

Human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be drastically reduced and eventually halted to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. [158]

The GHG emissions of others are reduced when:

  • An activity is modified to deliver the same results with lower GHG emissions;231
  • An activity is substituted by another which leads to no GHG emissions; or
  • GHGs are intercepted before emission into the environment, and either used or stored in a way that prevents later emission.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.232

For instance, a company might provide technical support to help a supplier install wind turbines at its sites, eliminating its need for electricity derived from fossil fuels. A positive outcome would be a reduction in the supplier’s GHG emissions.

Alternatively, a company might offer electric vehicles at a similar performance and price point to gasoline-powered alternatives, making them attractive to car rental companies. A positive outcome would be a reduction in the GHG emissions of the rental company, enabled by the electric vehicle company’s actions.

PP07: Greenhouse gases are removed from the atmosphere

GHGs are continuously removed from the atmosphere through natural processes of carbon sequestration and storage. In particular, photosynthesis in trees, plants and algae absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and converts it into other carbon compounds. These end up in biomass (e.g. tree trunks, branches, and roots) and soils, which serve as natural carbon sinks.

GHGs are removed from the atmosphere when:

  • Natural carbon sinks are planted, grown or otherwise created;
  • Existing natural carbon sinks are enhanced to absorb and store more carbon; or
  • GHGs are removed from the atmosphere by technological means, and either used or stored in a way that prevents future emission.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might develop scalable commercial products that capture and utilize atmospheric CO2. A positive outcome would be the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Alternatively, a company could set up a scheme where, for every product sold, it pledges to plant a tree in an appropriate location. A positive outcome would be the active creation of a carbon sink, which is able to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

PP08: Others generate fewer harmful emissions

Human actions have led to the release of a range of chemicals and particles. Many of these are known to be toxic to people and organisms, either immediately or in the long term.

The harmful emissions of others are reduced when:

  • An activity is modified to deliver the same results with fewer harmful emissions;
  • An activity is substituted by another which leads to no harmful emissions; or
  • Harmful substances are intercepted before emission into the environment, and either used or stored in a way that prevents later emission.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might structure a contract to incentivize a supplier to replace an inefficient and highly polluting manufacturing process with a much cleaner alternative. A positive outcome would be to decrease the supplier’s emissions of substances that degrade the local environment.

Alternatively, a company might develop a non-toxic industrial chemical that serves as a direct substitute for a widely-used chemical that is known to erode soil health. A positive outcome would be a reduction in the use of the toxic chemical.

PP09: Harmful emissions are removed from the environment

Some harmful substances may be physically removed from the environment (e.g. scarce metals). Others may not be easily removed, but their disruptive effects may be neutralized (e.g. using a benign chemical to disperse spilled oil and render it harmless).

Harmful emissions are removed from the environment or neutralized when:

  • Substances which degrade air quality, water quality, or soil health are removed or neutralized; or
  • Substances which can otherwise disrupt the health of people, organisms and ecosystems are removed or neutralized.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company may invent a way to utilize natural mosses to filter air and extract certain kinds of pollutants. A positive outcome would be an improvement in air quality.

Alternatively, a company might offer technical support to help mining businesses clean up a tailings pond, the toxic contents of which have started to leach into nearby soils. A positive outcome would be to eliminate all trace of the contaminants concerned.

2.5 Waste

In a Future-Fit Society, waste does not exist.

We must avoid waste wherever possible, and ensure any remaining waste is repurposed in ways that minimize quality loss, to prolong the life of the materials concerned.

With respect to waste, a company may contribute to a Future-Fit Society by acting to ensure that:

  • Others generate less waste; or
  • Waste is reclaimed and repurposed.

PP10: Others generate less waste

Today’s take-make-waste approach to material use results in vast amounts of waste, much of which ends up disrupting the environment.233

Waste generated by others is reduced when:

  • An existing need is met in a new or modified way, resulting in fewer by-products; or
  • Materials that would otherwise have been discarded are reused, recycled or (if biogenic and with all other options exhausted) burned for energy.234

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might develop an online platform which enables manufacturing businesses to describe both the waste they generate and the physical inputs they use, and which brokers relationships between businesses whose inputs and outputs match, to close the loop on waste streams. A positive outcome would be an increase in the use of materials which would otherwise have been discarded.

Alternatively, a company might offer consultancy services to consumer goods producers, to redesign their packaging so that their component materials (e.g. plastic and cardboard) can be easily separated by consumers and recycled after use. A positive outcome would be an increase in consumer recycling rates for the goods concerned.

PP11: Waste is reclaimed and repurposed

In many cases, environmental degradation can be reduced or even reversed by ‘re-extracting’ and reusing previously discarded materials that have been left to build up in nature, in place of virgin natural resources.

This occurs when:

  • Previously generated waste is removed from the environment (e.g. landfills and oceans) and repurposed as a production input.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might establish and operate waste processing facilities capable of extracting the valuable metals from discarded consumer electronics. A positive outcome would be a reduction in demand for virgin metals, thus avoiding destructive mining practices.

Alternatively, a company might develop a process to reuse the nylon from old fishing nets as yarn in carpet tiles – and might provide a financial incentive for fishermen to retrieve previously-discarded nets they encounter while at sea. A positive outcome would be a reduction in the number of fishing nets in the ocean which can interfere with aquatic life.

2.6 Physical presence

In a Future-Fit Society, our physical presence protects the health of ecosystems and communities.

We must ensure that high-value ecosystems are healthy, resilient and biodiverse, and we must preserve areas that are of high social and cultural value to communities.235

With respect to physical presence, a company may contribute to a Future-Fit Society by acting to ensure that:

  • Others cause less ecosystem degradation;
  • Ecosystems are restored;
  • Others cause less damage to areas of high social or cultural value; or
  • Areas of high social or cultural value are restored.

PP12: Others cause less ecosystem degradation

Through our physical presence and ongoing activities, humans have long encroached on and disrupted the natural world. As a result, many terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are now on the brink of collapse. [159]

Ecosystem degradation caused by others is reduced when:

  • Ecosystems are protected from encroachment; or
  • Activities that lead to ecosystem degradation are avoided.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company may offer new economic opportunities to indigenous communities living near rainforests, to eliminate their reliance on illegal logging practices. A positive outcome would be a reduction in rainforest loss.

Alternatively, a company might provide technical expertise to artisanal gold miners to inform them of ways to mine gold without using mercury. A positive outcome would be a reduction in mercury contamination and a consequent avoidance of land degradation.

PP13: Ecosystems are restored

Ecosystems which have been damaged by human presence do not have to remain degraded. Through certain activities, they can gradually be restored to their previous state, or a similar equivalent.

Ecosystems are restored when: [160]

  • Ecosystems are actively restored (e.g. by replanting native trees, repairing natural flood defences, and re-introducing native species to speed up recovery); or
  • Ecosystems are allowed to regenerate naturally (e.g. by protecting degraded areas from further human interference).

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company that specializes in river and wetland restoration may undertake a wetland renewal project, replanting native vegetation to increase an area’s resistance to flash floods. A positive outcome would be the return of indigenous wildfowl, and a reduction in the damage caused by storms to local communities.

Alternatively, a company might run a consumer campaign to raise funds through the sale of its products, with each sale resulting in a donation toward protecting corridors of land between previously-separated areas of pristine forest. A positive outcome would be the restoration of natural habitats that have been disrupted by human activity.

PP14: Others cause less damage to areas of high social or cultural value

A significant number of designated cultural World Heritage Sites are under threat. In many cases, these important examples of human creative genius, cultural traditions, outstanding architecture or settlements are being damaged by human activities.236 [161]

Furthermore, growing demand for land has increased the practice of land grabbing: large-scale land acquisitions made by nations, investors and/or businesses, often in areas with weak governance structures that allow land to be secured quickly and cheaply. [162] This is putting the health and livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest communities at risk.237

Others cause less damage to areas of social and cultural value when:

  • Areas or artefacts of social or cultural importance are protected; or
  • Land grabbing practices are avoided by establishing people’s traditional or customary rights to use, manage and control land, fisheries and forests.238,239

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a group of companies may collaborate to identify best practices and create an industry standard for conducting due diligence before making significant land acquisitions. A positive outcome from the improved due diligence would be a reduction in involuntary displacements.

Alternatively, a company could fund a taskforce of park rangers to monitor and protect a popular tourist site of cultural value situated in a forest. A positive outcome would be an increase in protection afforded to this area of high cultural value.

PP15: Areas of high social or cultural value are restored

Cultural heritage has increasingly been seen as an instrument for peace and reconciliation. [165] Its restoration can help to rebuild communities and overcome a sense of loss in the wake of conflict. [166] A legal precedent has also been established in recent years where land has been returned to those with traditional or customary rights.240

Areas of high social or cultural value are restored when:

  • Areas or artefacts of social or cultural value are reconstructed or rebuilt; or
  • Land which has been acquired in a contentious way is returned to those with traditional or customary rights.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company may partner with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to undertake a restoration project of a site of cultural value in a post-conflict country. A positive outcome would be the reconstruction of an important piece of human culture.

Alternatively, a company could provide legal advice to a group of indigenous people who are taking on the state government in a land rights battle. A positive outcome would be the indigenous group regaining their traditional rights to that portion of land.

2.7 People

In a Future-Fit Society, people have the capacity and opportunity to lead fulfilling lives.

Human wellbeing241 depends both on our ability to meet a range of basic needs which relate to survival and physical safety (food, shelter, etc.) and on our ability to pursue higher needs such as a sense of belonging and self-esteem.242 People have the capacity and opportunity to lead fulfilling lives when they have four things:

  1. The physical capacity (i.e. physical health) required to meet basic needs, and to pursue higher needs.
  2. The mental capacity (i.e. the competences and skills) required to meet basic needs and to pursue higher needs.
  3. The opportunity to meet basic needs, through economic inclusion and social justice.
  4. The opportunity to pursue higher needs, through individual expression and the ability to cultivate a sense of belonging.

With respect to wellbeing, a company may contribute to a Future-Fit Society by acting to ensure that:

  • More people are healthy and safe from harm;
  • People’s capabilities are strengthened;
  • More people have access to economic opportunity;
  • Individual freedoms are upheld for more people; or
  • Social cohesion is strengthened.

Each of these five outcomes are classified as a separate Positive Pursuit, and together they cover all Fundamental Human Rights set out by the UN. [13] (To see how the Fundamental Human Rights map on to the Positive Pursuits, see Appendix 1).

Note that the emphasis here is on interventions directed at people who are subject to a barrier (economic, political, social or physical) that is restricting their capacity or opportunity to lead a fulfilling life (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Barriers to wellbeing.

Barriers Examples
Social Social stigma, arising from characteristics such as sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity and religion
Physical Physical impediments, such as physical or mental health conditions or geographical barriers
Political Political restrictions, such as those arising from violent conflicts or dysfunctional governments
Economic Economic impediments, such as a lack of suitable jobs or less opportunity due to limited education

Note that it is important to understand what it means to overcome a barrier to wellbeing. Distributing affordable medicine in an underserved community would provide a treatment option that didn’t previously exist; selling the same medicine in a well-served community at a similar price to readily-available alternatives would not have the same effect. One way to assess the significance of an outcome is to ask the stakeholders experiencing it. For more information on how to assess outcomes, see the Assessment section.

Wellbeing and the Future-Fit Break-Even Goals

Note that a business is only Future-Fit when it in no way undermines the wellbeing of its employees, the communities affected by its own physical presence, and the users of its goods and services. These obligations, for which every company is wholly accountable, are embodied in several of the Future-Fit Break-Even Goals.243

Actions which result only in progress towarda Break-Even Goal – for example, ensuring that the company’s own workers receive a living wage and are subject to fair employment terms – do not constitute a Positive Pursuit.

PP16: More people are healthy and safe from harm

People must be healthy and safe from harm to ensure that they have the physical capacity to meet their basic needs and pursue higher needs.

This means that, as a society, we must continuously strive to ensure:

  • The prevention of premature deaths and illnesses;
  • The prevention of exploitation and abuse;
  • The prevention of mental health issues;
  • Access to nutritious food, and an end to malnutrition;
  • Access to clean water and sanitation;
  • Access to adequate housing;
  • Access to healthcare; and
  • The prevention of slavery and forced labour.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might offer access to insulin for Type 2 diabetes sufferers in the world’s least-developed nations, at a price that the average citizen can afford. A positive outcome would be a reduction in chronic complications arising from the disease, translating into a greater ability for diabetes sufferers to lead productive lives.

Alternatively, a company might donate to a foundation that distributes bed nets in malaria-prone areas. A positive outcome would be a reduction in malaria infection rates in those areas and an increase in lives saved.

PP17: People’s capabilities are strengthened

People should have access to the relevant knowledge, technology and services that will allow them to respond to day-to-day challenges and opportunities to the best of their ability. This will ensure that people have the capacity to meet their basic needs and pursue higher needs.

This means that, as a society, we must continuously strive to ensure:

  • Access to education and vocational training (e.g. schooling for young girls, business skill workshops);
  • Access to information needed to make more informed decisions (e.g. reproductive choices, business decisions);
  • Access to information and communication technologies (e.g. access to smart phones and computers with Internet connectivity);
  • Access to productivity-enhancing technologies (e.g. farming implements, manufacturing equipment);
  • Access to social security, insurance and finance (as a means to build resilience and insulate against shocks)244; and
  • Access to transport networks (increasing mobility to bring more capacity-building opportunities within reach).

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company may provide affordable transport services to children in rural villages, to give them access to previously-unreachable schools. A positive outcome would be an increase in childhood literacy and numeracy rates in the areas served.

Alternatively, a company might offer financial services in underserved areas that enable people to put aside savings or to afford insurance coverage, thereby increasing their financial resilience. A positive outcome would be increased long-term financial security.

PP18: More people have access to economic opportunity

People must have access to economic opportunities in order to meet their basic needs and pursue higher needs. This means that, as a society, we must continuously strive to ensure:

  • Access to livelihood opportunities which live up to the definition of Decent Work245, including: [170]
    • Fair income: The opportunity to make at least a living wage and have a stable income throughout the year;
    • Rights at work: The right to fair working hours leaving adequate time for rest and leisure;
    • Social dialogue: The right for workers to form trade unions and engage in collective bargaining;
    • Social protection: The right to benefits and worker protections that ensure individuals and families can meet their basic needs, including paid maternity and paternity leave.
  • Access to markets and value chains for those previously unable to participate, such as remote small-scale producers.
  • The right for communities to benefit economically from local resources, including land.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might work in partnership with a city to employ ex‑convicts who struggle to find a job, to ease their transition back into society. A positive outcome would be an increase in ex-convicts securing an income, which in turn translates into lower recidivism rates.

Alternatively, a company might set up a fair trade market for small-scale natural resource producers that otherwise would not have access to business. A positive outcome would be an increase in income opportunity for these small-scale enterprises.

PP19: Individual freedoms are upheld for more people

For everyone to have the opportunity to pursue higher needs, people’s individual freedoms must be respected, so that everyone can express themselves and participate in social, political and economic life without fear of discrimination.

This means that as a society we must continuously strive to ensure:

  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
  • Freedom of opinion and expression;
  • Freedom from discrimination;
  • Freedom of assembly;
  • The right to bodily integrity246; and
  • The right to privacy.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company may support a human rights NGO to fight for the release of prisoners of conscience. A positive outcome would be greater tolerance of freedom of thought.

Alternatively, a company may choose to form a political pressure group for the purpose of lobbying a government to implement legislation that forbids workplace discrimination. A positive outcome would be fewer cases of discrimination due to dissuasion by legal consequences.

PP20: Social cohesion is strengthened

For everyone to have the opportunity to pursue higher needs, people must be able to form, participate in and rely on social groups. Such social cohesion is crucial to building trust and respect among individuals, communities and institutions:

[A socially cohesive society] works towards the wellbeing of all its members, minimizing disparities and avoiding marginalization, by building networks of relationships, trust and identity between different groups; fighting discrimination, exclusion and excessive inequalities; and enabling upward social mobility. [171]

Social cohesion depends on strong bonds within communities and strong bridges between communities. The emphasis of this Positive Pursuit is therefore not about safeguarding individual wellbeing, but about fostering common ground and closing opportunity gaps between individuals.

How social cohesion relates to other Positive Pursuits

All Positive Pursuits relating to wellbeing (PP16-PP20) may be mutually reinforcing. For example, social cohesion in a community might be strengthened as a knock-on effect of ensuring that More people have access to economic opportunity in that community.

However, whereas the other four wellbeing Positive Pursuits focus on influencing individuals or groups, Social cohesion is strengthened focuses explicitly on efforts to minimize disparities or improve relations between individuals or groups.

What creates social cohesion?

Strong bonds within communities typically depend on: [172] [173]

  • Supporting networks and reciprocity: Individuals co-operate to support one another in formal and informal groups, leading to an expectation that help will be available to all when needed.
  • Shared norms and values: People share or respect each other’s beliefs and viewpoints.
  • Safety: People feel safe in their community and free to make use of public spaces.
  • Empowerment: People feel they have a voice which is listened to and that they can take action to initiate changes.
  • Capacity to participate: There is a high degree of social interaction within families and communities.

Strong bridges between communities typically depend on:

  • Mutual respect: Respect and trust between different social groups are fostered at all levels (e.g. within education, between communities, within institutions).
  • Equal opportunities: People with different backgrounds have similar life opportunities (e.g. access to education, healthcare, income, etc.).
Barriers to social cohesion

Barriers to social cohesion exist at many levels, in and between groups. Figure 5 provides a list of possible barriers. [173] [174] Social cohesion is strengthened when these social divides, economic divides and/or physical barriers are reduced or overcome.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company could support a project which enables wheelchair users to gain easier access to shared public spaces. A positive outcome would be increased participation in activities at those venues by this previously-restricted group.

Alternatively, a company may introduce a product that replaces competitive products or business practices that have been shown to exacerbate social divides, such as the practice of mainstream social media sites filtering individual content according to political preferences. A positive outcome would be a decrease in prejudices among service users.

Figure 5: Possible barriers to social cohesion.

Barriers to social cohesion
Social divides Language or cultural barriers to participation in social activities
Prejudices, discriminatory behaviours and biases leading to voluntary or involuntary exclusion of certain individuals or groups
Lack of productive activities to engage in
Fear for personal safety
Low levels of trust in institutions, resulting in apathy and reduced civic participation
Economic divides Inability to afford to participate in social activities
Lack of access to relevant education or training
Lack of access to economic opportunities such as decent paying jobs
Physical barriers Lack of appropriate spaces to engage in group activities
Inaccessibility of shared spaces due to physical disability or lack of transport options

2.8 Drivers

In a Future-Fit Society, social norms, global governance and economic growth drive the pursuit of future-fitness.

The seven previous sections identify how a company can contribute directly to the core properties of a Future-Fit Society (Figure 2). This section focuses on how a company can contribute indirectly to such outcomes by fostering the enabling conditions required to deliver them.

Social norms, global governance and how we pursue economic growth are what drive the behaviours of all socioeconomic actors – and today they are not aligned with the pursuit of future-fitness. As a result, society remains on the same breakdown trajectories that have led to the existential problems we are now facing.247

Entrenched incentives that favour existing infrastructures and practices make it difficult to change direction at a systemic level, but that is what must happen. Examples of breakthrough technologies and business models can be found everywhere, but until society starts to truly value and actively favour such endeavours, it may prove impossible to replicate their success at sufficient speed and scale.

To transform society we must reorient social norms, reshape global governance, and reinvent how we recognize and reward economic growth, so that they become drivers – rather than inhibitors – of future-fitness. Three factors play a part in catalyzing such a shift (see Figure 6). [177]

Figure 6: Catalyzing systemic shifts.

Factors that play a part in catalyzing systemic shifts in society
Radical innovations New ways (physical, virtual, social etc.) to meet existing needs, which overcome systemic limitations of established approaches
Social, institutional and market structures Re-alignments of existing technologies, regulations, incentives, user patterns, and infrastructure to support transitions
Supporting paradigms Shifts in mindsets and values that underpin cultural, political and economic systems

With respect to fostering the conditions that will drive progress, a company may contribute to a Future-Fit Society by acting to ensure that:

  • Infrastructure is strengthened in pursuit of future-fitness;
  • Governance is strengthened in pursuit of future-fitness;
  • Market mechanisms are strengthened in pursuit of future-fitness; or
  • Social norms increasingly support the pursuit of future-fitness.

Fostering the enabling conditions for society to thrive

These four Positive Pursuits differ from all previous ones in the sense that they are focused on system change, because they enable or enhance society’s capacity to pursue future-fitness. For example, consider a company which creates a vaccine to tackle an infectious disease and sells the medicine privately to pharmaceutical businesses. The company is ensuring that More people are healthy and safe from harm,but the positive outcome is limited to those who purchase the vaccine. However, if the company were to make the design of the vaccine open source – removing a technological barrier so that others could reproduce it – society as a whole would benefit. In this scenario the company would be delivering the same kind of positive outcome as before, but at a systemic level.

PP21: Infrastructure is strengthened in pursuit of future-fitness

Most human activities depend on various kinds of infrastructure, which together serve as an essential foundation for achieving an efficient, inclusive and resilient society.

It can be useful to think of infrastructure248 as falling into two broad categories: [179]

  • Infrastructure that has been completely built by humans to support the servicing of societal needs, whether physical or digital. Examples include roads, buildings, utility networks, etc.
  • Infrastructure that is natural or naturalized, targeted or managed by humans to provide a range of ecosystem services. This is essentially a way to utilize or enhance nature’s ability to deliver social or environmental benefits. Examples include relying on coastal mangroves to protect against flooding, or planting grasses on rooftops to reduce energy consumption and storm water runoff.

Infrastructural gaps and shortcomings are one of the primary reasons why millions of people today lack access to basic services such as energy, clean water, sanitation, connectivity and mobility. Existing infrastructure is often highly inefficient and may even impede progress toward future-fitness.249 The infrastructure investment choices society makes over the coming years will effectively lock-in our transition pathway.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to improve infrastructure, but the questions in Figure 7 can be used to consider the pros and cons of a potential project in a holistic way. [180]

Ways to strengthen infrastructure in pursuit of future-fitness

To strengthen infrastructure in pursuit of future-fitness, a company can take steps to:

  • Close infrastructure gaps to provide access to basic services for underserved people;
  • Upgrade existing infrastructure to improve efficiency;
  • Alter existing infrastructure to reduce its negative operational impacts; or
  • Create or upgrade infrastructure to enhance community or environmental resiliency.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might establish an affordable and reliable transport network which connects isolated villages in a developing country to other transport hubs in more widely-served areas. A positive outcome would be greater access to transportation for an underserved group.

Alternatively, a company may fund a project which aims to create breakwaters from oyster beds and reefs to protect coastal cities from storm surges. A positive outcome of this would be a reduction in flood damage.

Figure 7: Holistic considerations when undertaking an infrastructure project.

Undertaking a holistic assessment of an infrastructure project
Social considerations Will it safeguard or even enhance people’s livelihoods?
Will it have the support of local communities?
Can it be implemented safely?
Will benefits be equitably shared (e.g. does it improve accessibility)?
Will it safeguard or even enhance community cohesion and inclusion?
Can it contribute to local capacity building (e.g. technical knowledge transfer)?
Will it safeguard or increase community resilience (e.g. against power outages or floods)?
Environmental considerations Will it safeguard or even restore the natural environment?
Will it reduce pollution?
Will it support the efficient use of resources?
Will it safeguard or increase the resilience of ecosystems (e.g. to climate risks)?

PP22: Governance is strengthened in pursuit of future-fitness

The concept of governance can be considered at many levels: international, national, local and corporate. It relates to the way decisions are made and how those decisions are implemented – through regulation, policies, processes and so on.

This Positive Pursuit focuses on how a company might influence governance structures beyond its own organisation – such as those within governments or public institutions – to support the systemic pursuit of future-fitness.250 [181]

Trust in governance is associated with low levels of corruption, democratic stability and relative economic equality [182], but there is no shortcut to trust. Institutions can only accrue trust over time if they are transparent in their decisions, consistently do what they say they will, and continuously strive to act in the best interests of those they serve. The relationship between trust and good governance is circular: each fosters the other. [183]

There are many ways in which a company can foster good governance (see Figure 8).

In a Future-Fit Society, governance in every context should live up to the following five attributes: [184]

  • Accountable: Institutions take full ownership and responsibility for the results of their actions, and strive to manage these outcomes through effective oversight at all levels.
  • Participatory: Everyone the institution serves has a voice in decision-making, either directly or via legitimate intermediaries that represent their interests.
  • Responsive: Institutional decisions, programs and processes adapt to effectively address society’s changing needs.
  • Responsible: Institutions uphold human rights, protect the health of the environment and foster the pursuit of future-fitness.
  • Transparent: Information necessary for decision-makers to adhere to the above attributes is readily available and accessible.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might create a mobile phone app to enable citizens in water-stressed regions to alert local authorities to instances of abandoned or unsatisfactory government-regulated water points, so that problems could be flagged and dealt with. A positive outcome would be an increase in the accountability and responsiveness of the local government with respect to water management.

Alternatively, a company could lobby a national government to implement stricter toxic emission standards for new vehicles. A positive outcome would be a gradual decrease in harmful emissions leading to a lasting improvement in air quality, as a result of more responsible governance.

Figure 8: Ways to strengthen governance.

Ways to strengthen governance in pursuit of future-fitness
Increase inclusion Facilitate wider participation in decision-making for those that have been excluded due to barriers such as distance, disability or gender
Improve communication channels Create or improve channels of communication (both digital and in-person) between institutions and the people they serve
Advocate for change Campaign for institutions to change their behaviour to more closely align with the attributes of good governance

PP23: Market mechanisms are strengthened in pursuit of future-fitness

Every company can take steps to improve its own future-fitness, but some barriers exist at a market level which are exceedingly difficult to overcome by any one business alone. Such barriers may hinder the efforts of even the most committed company, but any action to remove one could potentially enable the company – as well as its peers and other market actors – to make much-needed progress.

Market barriers that prevent progress

Market barriers exist in many forms and include those outlined in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Market barriers that prevent progress.

Market barriers that prevent progress to future-fitness
Type of market barrier Overcoming barrier enables market actors to... Example
Technological barriers: Insufficient availability of or access to technology Bring to market Future-Fit solutions that are able to compete with unfit alternatives on price, functionality and quality. For commercial airlines to eliminate their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions they must switch from fossil fuels to another power source, such as electricity. The energy density of batteries (the amount of power stored in a battery of a particular size/weight) is not currently sufficient to power commercial aircraft. A technological breakthrough here could transform the industry, and lead to a radical reduction in associated GHG emissions.
Scale up the adoption of Future-Fit solutions. An online platform which allows people to share research and information about renewable energy technologies could be created, thereby facilitating access to renewable energy research for market actors within developing countries.
Knowledge barriers: Insufficient access to or accuracy of information Make informed decisions on how to reduce their own negative impacts. A company may not have the ability to assess whether or not it is operating in water-stressed regions.
Correctly identify the positive and negative impacts of other market actors, such as suppliers and publicly traded companies. Without standardized certifications, a company would find it hard to determine whether or not a raw material was sourced responsibly.
Effectively signal their own positive or negative impacts to other market actors, such as consumers and investors. Lack of standardization in corporate social and environmental disclosure makes it difficult for leading companies to communicate their superior performance effectively.
Incentive barriers: Insufficient or counterproductive incentives Seek to create Future-Fit solutions or solve big societal challenges. Even though antibiotic resistance is likely to create a health crisis in the future, there is currently no pressing incentive for pharmaceutical companies to invest in the research and development of new antibiotics.
Choose Future-Fit solutions over alternatives. The existence of extensive fossil fuel subsidies, which artificially reduce their cost to users, disincentivizes markets from moving to renewable energy.
Ways to strengthen market mechanisms in pursuit of future-fitness

There are four types of market mechanisms which can combine to overcome these barriers: [185]

  • Economic: Aligning economic incentives to reward Future-Fit behaviours (e.g. conditional financing, thematic investment funds, subsidies).
  • Regulatory: Using legal requirements to enforce Future-Fit behaviours or to ban behaviours that impede progress (e.g. legislation).
  • Cooperative: Using voluntary agreements to encourage partners (other organizations, governments or individuals) to exhibit Future-Fit behaviours (e.g. industry standards, pre-competitive partnerships).
  • Informational: Equipping individuals and organizations with the information necessary to pursue Future-Fit behaviours (e.g. product certification schemes, reporting mechanisms, information technologies).

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.

For instance, a company might collaborate with industry peers to co-create a certification scheme which enables all companies to distinguish between a responsibly-sourced raw material and its alternatives. This would be an informational market mechanism. A positive outcome would be an increase in the amount of raw material sold which has been responsibly sourced, and the associated benefits to communities and ecosystems that this brings.

Alternatively, a company may collaborate with governing bodies to scale up an innovative payment-by-result mechanism designed to tackle the issues of high reoffending rates within the prison system by incentivizing the successful rehabilitation of convicts. A positive outcome would be a reduction in reoffending rates.

PP24: Social norms increasingly support the pursuit of future-fitness

Social norms are the formal and informal rules that govern behaviour in groups and societies. [186] They are what groups of people believe to be normal, fair or appropriate, and they operate at different levels: individuals, communities, industries, nationally, and internationally.

A Future-Fit Society encourages diversity of thought and culture, as well as individual expression. In such a society, everyone is free to define and pursue a life of personal fulfilment as part of the broader community, because social norms are fully aligned in support of this pursuit.

In order to transition to a Future-Fit Society, many of today’s entrenched social norms need to be challenged.

Examples of entrenched social norms that slow progress to future-fitness

At the global level, our economy is still largely predicated on the idea that the (only) purpose of business is to maximize (short-term) profits.

At the cultural level, the practice of forced marriage is still widespread and remains a social norm in some parts of the world.

In certain industries the expectation is for people to consistently prioritize work over their personal lives and sleep, to the detriment of their wellbeing.

And across all levels, from individuals to global society, we tend to live our lives as beneficiaries, rather than stewards, of the ecosystem services nature provides us.

There are many entities, operating across all levels of society, that combine to establish and perpetuate social norms (see Figure 10).251

It can sometimes appear that social norms are fixed and impervious to change, but in reality they are continuously shifting. Social norms evolve through the interplay of a wide range of complex phenomena, which can be broadly grouped as follows:

  • Social pressures such as demographic shifts, increasing globalization, and extreme events such as wars, financial crises, and revolutions.
  • Environmental pressures such as resource scarcity, soil erosion, and more extreme weather events caused by global warming.
  • Technological pressures such as the potential for increased automation due to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics.

Figure 10: Social norms are established and perpetuated in many ways.

Entities which serve to establish and perpetuate social norms
Supranational organizations Entities such as the UN, World Bank and the European Union which form agreements, such as the Declaration of Human Rights, and define regulatory standards, such as mandatory health and safety protocols for companies
Government institutions At the national, state and local level, government institutions hold the power to create policy and regulations, such as the level of social benefits or the legalization of certain products and services
Multinational corporations Large businesses that operate across countries are some of the most influential actors in the 21st century, shaping both employee behaviours and influencing consumers, communities, other businesses and societal institutions
Cultural institutions These range from long-held cultural traditions, to religious institutions, to language, and often have long-entrenched roots which manifest in current day behaviours, such as the rejection of contraception, or what is considered to be socially acceptable speech
Media Vast swathes of media, from news to films, and music to advertising, influence people’s day-to-day lives, expectations, decisions and opinions. Examples include news stories that fuel public prejudices, and social media driving new fashion trends
Community interaction and individual behaviour The way people act and interact with others everyday serves to reinforce existing patterns of accepted behaviour, such as people’s proclivity to recycle household waste or greet someone in the street
Ways to influence social norms to support the pursuit of future-fitness

A company may seek to positively influence social norms in a variety of ways:

  • Advocacy: Influencing decision makers to change their policies, practices and attitudes through activities such as lobbying, campaigning and boycotting.
  • Leadership: Leading by example to defy existing social norms, thereby making alternative ideas and actions more visible and accepted.
  • Innovation: Introducing new technologies, business models or other targeted initiatives which make it easier for people to adopt new norms.

This Positive Pursuit encompasses any action which achieves such an outcome.252

For instance, a company could campaign for minority rights in a country where the law actively discriminates against certain groups. A positive outcome would be a shift in public demand for anti-discrimination laws in that nation.

Alternatively, a company may develop a mobile phone application that enables users to report anonymously when and where they paid a bribe, allowing regulators to identify and focus their attention on corruption hotspots. A positive outcome would be a reduction in reported incidences of bribery.

Encouraging behaviour change in individuals to shift social norms

When thinking about ways to shift a social norm, it can be useful to keep in mind the following:

Convenience: Is the desired change in behaviour costly to the individual, financially or timewise? People are less likely to adopt patterns of behaviour that are less convenient than the status quo.

Peer comparison: Are those around the individual also changing their behaviour? The perception that others in a social group are behaving in a certain way can influence an individual’s likelihood of doing so.

Visibility: Is the change in behaviour a visible one? People are more likely to change their behaviour if they know their actions can be seen by others. If an action is restricted to the private sphere, it can be harder to change.


  1. World Bank data suggests the figure to be about 80%. [154]↩︎

  2. 20% of the world’s population has no access to electricity, and 2.7 billion people do not have clean and safe energy for cooking. [155]↩︎

  3. There is no single universally-agreed understanding of what access to energy means. The description used here draws on the International Energy Agency’s methodology for defining energy access. [19]↩︎

  4. A commonly used definition of access to water is having a source of clean, reliable water within one kilometer of a person’s dwelling. [156]↩︎

  5. For example, humanity’s annual use of renewable natural resources is 1.7 times that which can be regenerated over an entire year. [157]↩︎

  6. Such substances include but are not limited to: human-made synthetics that are novel or foreign to nature (e.g. persistent organic pollutants, including endocrine disrupting chemicals, radioactive materials, and nanomaterials/micro-plastics); metals and their compounds that are not naturally abundant in nature (e.g. compounds of heavy metals like mercury, lead, zinc and cadmium); stratospheric ozone-depleting chemical substances; and aerosols. For more information see this frequently asked question.↩︎

  7. For more information on resource efficiency, see the Products and Projects section.↩︎

  8. GHGs should be measured in CO2 equivalent when assessed. Global warming potentials (GWP) should be used to do this. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol defines a GWP as “a factor describing the radiative forcing impact (degree of harm to the atmosphere) of one unit of a given GHG relative to one unit of CO2. [75] Consistent with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, companies must use the 100-year GWP values from the latest IPCC Assessment Report, available via the IPCC website.↩︎

  9. For example,72% of all plastic packaging is not recovered at all; 40% is dumped in landfill sites, and 32% leaks out of the collection system, either because it is not collected at all, or because it is collected but then illegally dumped or mismanaged. [135]↩︎

  10. Burning waste for energy is not considered an acceptable way to repurpose waste, unless the waste is 100% biogenic. This is because the resulting energy is not considered renewable. For more information see this frequently asked question.↩︎

  11. Areas of high social and cultural values are sites which are important for satisfying the basic necessities of local communities and/or areas of global, national or local cultural, archaeological or historical significance. For more information see the definition of High Conservation Value Areas.↩︎

  12. For example, mass tourism is threatening the preservation of cultural heritage sites like Machu Picchu, Peru and Venice, Italy.↩︎

  13. A 2014 study estimated that land grabbing practices had the potential to affect the incomes of 12 million people, with implications for both food security and livelihoods. [163]↩︎

  14. People who rely on customary or traditional land rights are particularly vulnerable to land grabbing because there is little or no official documentation of their rights, which could otherwise protect them from their land being taken by someone else. [164]↩︎

  15. Note that formalizing customary or traditional land rights is not necessarily the same as endowing rights to underserved populations. For more information on the latter, see the Positive Pursuit category More people have access to economic opportunity.↩︎

  16. For example, after a 37-year fight, title deeds to 55,000 hectares of Australian land were returned to their traditional aboriginal owners in 2016. [167]↩︎

  17. This understanding of wellbeing is aligned with The Capability Approach pioneered by economist and philosopher Amartya Sen. The emphasis here is not on maximizing subjective wellbeing, but on ensuring people have both the capacity and the opportunity to achieve the kind of lives they deem to be valuable. [11]↩︎

  18. The distinction between basic needs and higher needs is informed by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [168]↩︎

  19. The Break-Even Goals relating to wellbeing are: Community health is safeguarded; Employee health is safeguarded; Employees are paid at least a living wage; Employees are subject to fair employment terms; Employees are not subject to discrimination; Employee concerns are actively solicited, impartially judged and transparently addressed; Product communications are honest, ethical and promote responsible use; Product concerns are actively solicited, impartially judged and transparently addressed; and Products do not harm people or the environment.↩︎

  20. Personal resilience is: “the process of negotiating, managing and adapting to significant sources of stress or trauma. Assets and resources within the individual, their life and environment facilitate this capacity for adaptation and ‘bouncing back’ in the face of adversity. Across life, the experience of resilience will vary.” [169]↩︎

  21. “Decent Work” is defined by the International Labour Organization as work that is “productive, delivers a fair income with security and social protection, safeguards the basic rights, offers equality of opportunity and treatment, prospects for personal development and the chance for recognition and to have your voice heard”. [21] Note that with respect to a company’s own workers, all aspects of Decent Work are covered by the Employee Break-Even Goals. However, this Positive Pursuit could apply with respect to a company’s own workers, if it were to provide employment opportunities specifically to groups with limited access.↩︎

  22. Right to bodily integrity is not explicitly asserted by the UN Fundamental Human Rights, but is stipulated by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights [22] It emphasizes a person’s right to autonomy over their own body.↩︎

  23. For example, the average lifespan of a coal-fired power plant is 40 years [175] and current trends suggest the number in operation will not begin to shrink until 2022 – too late for effective climate change mitigation. [176]↩︎

  24. This Positive Pursuit focuses on what is sometimes referred to as ‘hard infrastructure’: the physical entities and networks required to support a functioning modern society – such as roads, buildings and ICT infrastructure. So-called ‘soft infrastructure’ refers to institutions which deliver services – such as governmental, financial and education systems – which are improved through other Positive Pursuits. [178]↩︎

  25. For example, an estimated 60% of global carbon emissions are due to the construction, operation and maintenance of existing infrastructure. [179]↩︎

  26. Corporate governance is an important determinant for how companies act and respond to change. In fact, good governance structures are central to a company’s capacity to bring social and environmental considerations into the core of how it does business. This is reflected by the fact that a wide range of governance criteria can be found embedded throughout the Break‑Even Goals.↩︎

  27. This list is particularly informed by Duncan Green’s book, How Change Happens. [187]↩︎

  28. Changes in social norms can rarely, if ever, be traced back to a single cause, not least because multiple factors are usually at play. So, although companies can identify their intentions and the actions they take, it should be noted that it is extremely difficult for a company to articulate its contribution to any resulting outcome in any credible way.↩︎