In the book Net Positive, the ex-Unilever CEO who increased his shareholders’ returns by 300% while ensuring the company ranked #1 in the world for sustainability for eleven years running has, for the first time, revealed how to do it. Teaming up with Andrew Winston, one of the world’s most authoritative voices on corporate sustainability, Paul Polman shows business leaders how to take on humanity’s greatest and most urgent challenges–climate change and inequality–and build a thriving business as a result. Let’s listen to Andrew Winston talking about the book.

Hi Andrew Winston, so why did you write this book… now?

Andrew Winston: My co-author, Paul Polman, approached me about writing a new book that would leverage his experience running a multinational company with purpose and sustainability at the core, and use my knowledge from working on these issues for 20 years. We both feel urgency about the large challenges the world faces, in particular climate change and inequality. Both have gotten dramatically worse in recent decades, and on climate we have very little time to greatly reduce carbon emissions. We also felt the time was good because the solutions to many of our problems are within reach, and business can take a leadership role.

An extract from your book that best represents yourself?

EXCERPT 1..from the preface of the book about my overall thinking 

My mission is to inspire companies to solve our biggest environmental and social challenges, not for philanthropy, but because it’s good business. I think about progress at the macro level: in the struggle to move the business world away from short-term profit obsession—and toward purposeful, long-term value creation— are we winning?

Yes and no.

The number of companies addressing their environmental and social impacts has been rising fast. No large company seriously questions that sustainability is on the agenda. We won the first battle, but big problems remain. Our economic model, which overuses resources, encourages unfettered consumption, and pours wealth into a few hands, is hurtling us toward a cliff. The global challenges we’re trying to solve (climate change in particular) are getting worse. We’re not going fast enough.

We need companies to go far beyond just cutting some carbon emissions and being less bad; the work must move into positive impact territory. The world needs more courageous leaders willing to commit their organizations to deep change and serving the world.

EXCERPT 2: core thesis of the book

A net positive business serves others. It follows the oldest moral guidepost we have, the Golden Rule, or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” To live by the Rule, a net positive business lives within natural boundaries or thresholds to respect the planet and its inhabitants. It observes moral boundaries for how we treat each other, and it tries to repair, restore, reinvigorate, and regenerate.

With that framing in mind, our vision of net positive is a business that improves well-being for everyone it impacts and at all scales—every product, every operation, every region and country, and for every stakeholder, including employees, suppliers, communities, customers, and even future generations and the planet itself.

This is a North Star. No company can achieve all these aims at once, but it’s where we should be heading if we want a viable economy and planet. To exist as a relevant business today is to enrich the world.

The ultimate question is this: Is the world better off because your business is in it?

The trends that are just emerging and that you believe in the most?

Andrew Winston: If by ‘believe in’ you mean which ones are strongest and I’m most sure are happening and moving quickly, I’d say the shift to the clean economy is one. The price of renewable energy, batteries, and other technologies have dropped exponentially. The world’s largest carmakers have committed to selling mostly or only electric vehicles within 15 to 20 years (or sooner). The other mega-trend that’s unstoppable is the pressure from younger generations on business to have values and help build a better world. The younger people are asking new questions of companies they buy from and work for. Those two trends give me hope.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a reader of this article, what would it be?

Andrew Winston: Get started and make your voice heard. We need collective action and new policies to change systems. So individuals should be supporting the shifts we need through their choices at work, what they buy and use, and most importantly who they vote for. Support politicians that want to tackle climate change aggressively and care about human rights and reducing inequality. Get out and vote, speak out about what matters, and even run for office.

In a nutshell, what are the next topics that you will be passionate about?

Andrew Winston: I’ll always be passionate about using business to build a thriving world. But our ability to tackle big challenges is being undermined by newer problems like misinformation, propaganda, and attacks on democracy. These fights are the core ones of our times and need everyone working to protect rights and promote a more just world.

Thank you Andrew

Thank you Bertrand

The book : Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take, Paul Polman, Andrew Wintson, Harvard Business Review Press, 2021.