Kingfisher are feeling “Net Positive” about sustainability

Is it enough for business to simply reduce their negative externalities on the planet? No, according to the Kingfisher retail group. Instead they believe it’s the duty of business to not only conserve, but to give back and regenerate the planet, and what’s more, it can be profitable.

“Nous donnons plus que nous prenons”

This French phrase translates simply as: “We give more than we take”. A sentence that perfectly encapsulates the purpose of Kingfisher’s new “Net Positive” drive that seeks to regenerate more than it conserves – something Neo have been helping communicate to the world. This new initiative boldly pushes the frontiers of sustainability; substituting old orthodoxies and truly challenging the status quo.

Not content with merely achieving neutrality in resource consumption, energy efficiency and carbon output, Kingfisher’s CEO Ian Cheshire wants his company to achieve a Net Positive output – expanding and replenishing the earthly stocks from which the company’s revenues depend. As he puts it:

“We must do more than simply less evil, instead we must seek to make a positive impact…zero is no longer enough.”

Anything less, he believes, would amount to a “non-motivational target”. Indeed, this is the first scheme of its kind in the UK; something that must surely be regarded as the antithesis to “green washing” – an accusation many companies find themselves subjected to when engaging in CSR.

Yet far from a radical business deviation by the UK’s second largest retailer, Mr Cheshire believes this makes sound business sense. In the long run, it should help cut costs and promote profitability – thus putting to the sword perceptions that sustainability and business are incompatible. As the CEO argues:

“This is revenue-generating for us and we shouldn’t be shy about saying that. We have to make a business case for it”

Indeed, the business demand for Net Positive couldn’t be starker. Kingfisher’s annual timber needs depend upon a forest area the size of Switzerland. Replenishing this timber stock is not only beneficial for the biosphere; in the future it would mitigate the costs of rising timber prices by boosting supplies and lowering costs. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that adopting Net Positive would help the company make savings of 45-60 million pounds per year. And in the broader context, the market value of the Government’s “Green Deal” amounts to 22.6 billion from now until 2020 – providing further incentives if ever they were needed.

However this is by no means an isolated fad by Kingfisher – they have long been leaders in this field. In 1993, they became a founding member of the Forest Stewardship Council, and by 2011, B&Q had become the UK’s first retailer to be independently verified as sourcing 100% of their timber from well-managed sources (an accolade bestowed upon B&Q’s French sister company Castorama not long after). Additionally, in 1998 they became the first retailer to not only label but to significantly cut toxic VOCs in their paints. “Becoming the leader” in sustainability (as they themselves describe it) is evidently in their historical DNA.

Net Positive is the next step up in this business evolution and has been integrated as one of the 8 core components of their business assessment model. The roll out of Net Positive has already begun, with notable examples being the NASA sustainable model home project created in partnership with B&Q, as well as vast expansions in their eco product lines – sales of which have doubled in 3 years. Kingfisher could certainly not be criticized for having modest ambitions

So what are Net Positive’s core targets composed of? Firstly, Kingfisher aim to create more forest than they use. Secondly, they aim to make every home they deal with produce zero carbon or, where possible, a net energy producer. And finally, they will ensure that every Kingfisher product can be either remade, recycled, reused or is completely biodegradable.

All of the above provides Kingfisher with a unique purpose, adding a brand depth that distinguishes them from most competitors. Cheshire describes this business purpose and relationship with their customers as “ something broader…and not purely transactional”. The endgame for “Net Positive” is the nurturing of a “circular economy” – an economy where resources are perpetually in use and not needlessly wasted. This commitment is exemplified with their continued support of the Ellen McArthur foundation and economically bolstered by an analysis by McKinskey which anticipates that “circular economic models” could be worth 200 billion Euros in the EU single market in years to come.

Whilst no company is perfect, Kingfisher deserves real praise for entering the unchartered terrain that many more conservative businesses dare not. This move will almost certainly pay off – with Net Positive proving that business can thrive with sustainability, not in spite of it. Let’s hope its example fertilizes the seeds of new sustainable norms in the business community.