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120: Taking Business Net Positive with Paul Polman & Andrew Winston

Can every business be Net Positive?

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About this episode

For the first time ever, we are all in person bringing this episode from the TED Countdown Summit in Edinburgh! TED Countdown is an event that officially kicked off on 12th October and encompasses four days of inspiring talks, collaboration, connections and commitments to meaningful action for a better world ahead of COP26.

Our guest is Paul Polman, return Outrage + Optimism guest and a celebrated business leader who made sustainability the heart of a global consumer business’ growth agenda in his former role as CEO of Unilever. He is joined by one of the most widely read, published and acclaimed writers on sustainability, Andrew Winston, to talk about the new book the two have co-authored, “Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take”.  

We unpack the ways the book re-frames how business can put a lasting end inequality and climate change. Can every business be Net Positive? Find out!

Stick around for a track of epic proportions from musical guest, WACO.

Mentioned links from the episode:

Amazing music this week was from WACO! You gotta see their punkishly cosmic music video for “A New Future

They have a physical copy of their latest record for sale out on Venn Records, made from leftover waste vinyl: “Hope Rituals” - Buy It!

Sales will be donated to Beyond Gender - Please check out the work they are doing to create a fairer and safer society.


Full Transcript

Clay: [00:00:03] Okay.

Christiana: [00:00:04] Are we actually recording?

Clay: [00:00:05] We are actually recording.

Christiana: [00:00:06] Anything in silence here?

Clay: [00:00:07] No, no, no. I hadn't even started recording yet. Now we're recording.

Paul: [00:00:11] Good morning. This is the World Service of the BBC.

Tom: [00:00:15] It's Paul Dickinson in person. Look at that. And you know who else it is? It's Clay Carnill. This is the first time we have ever been together in one room. Can you believe we've been doing this podcast?

Christiana: [00:00:25] Seriously, the first time in two years.

Clay: [00:00:28] I just met Paul in person for the first time

Christiana: [00:00:31] Marina is here too.

Tom: [00:00:32] It is 6:00 in the morning. We're in a hotel room in Edinburgh.

Christiana: [00:00:36] It’s Marina, Clay, Tom, Paul and myself. I cannot believe it, in one room. Load More

Tom: [00:00:41] It would only be this kind of event that could get this level of energy at 6:00 in the morning.

Paul: [00:00:45] Marina, could you just stop filming us sitting in a hotel table and come and say hello to the listeners, please?

Marina: [00:00:51] Good morning, everyone.

Tom: [00:00:54] Yay! All right. Here we go. Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism! I'm coming to you for the first time ever with all of us in one place. I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana: [00:01:16] I'm Christiana Figueres.

Paul: [00:01:17] And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:01:18] Today we talk about the narrowing path to COP 26 and what Alok Sharma has been pushing the world's largest economies to do. We speak to Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, authors of the new book Net Positive. And we have music from Waco. Thanks for being here. So it is extremely exciting to see you both. How nice to be together.

Paul: [00:01:48] It's lovely. Last time we were all together, I think was in a toilet in San Francisco, wasn't it?

Tom: [00:01:52] I thought we agreed we'd never talk about that.

Paul: [00:01:54] I mean, we were

Christiana: [00:01:57] I thought I have explained that a toilet is not a room in the United States.

Paul: [00:02:00] We were in the restrooms.

Christiana: [00:02:04] Ah, there we go. There we go.

Tom: [00:02:05] Recording something. Yeah, that's not quite true. Actually, we were together at the very beginning of the podcast when we rented a flat in Barcelona for a couple of weeks. And recorded a whole bunch of completely unusable content because I was doing the production.

Christiana: [00:02:16] But we didn't, we didn't have Clay there. This is the first time. Oh, and first hold on. This is the very first time that Clay and Paul have ever met in person.

Paul: [00:02:26] Yeah. So I now know Clay's height.

Christiana: [00:02:29] And that he's taller than you.

Paul: [00:02:30] Yeah, and he's tall at me, and he's.

Clay: [00:02:34] Only a little bit.

Paul: [00:02:35] He’s got a very, very charming new haircut, and his voice hasn't got a sort of buzz and he doesn't occasionally sort of stop for lack of bandwidth. So that’s Clay in real life. IRL. Now sparing listeners that, what's going on Tom?

Tom: [00:02:49] Well, let's get into that, but it is amazing. We should just notice it is amazing in today's world that this has been possible. I mean, this is the only time in history that we could all have basically done all of this for the last few years, become friends and pull, I mean, I don't know. You must feel like I've heard you mention video conferencing a couple of times in the years that I've met you. Do you feel like your work here is done?

Paul: [00:03:10] All my work over, actually, two and a half decades. If anybody is interested, promoting video telephony, I kind of never failed to make the world wake up to the potential in this tiny little viral virus got everybody using video telephones properly, Zoom and Teams came along, and we have been changed as a species to recognise the true power of video communications to dematerialize economic growth and allow us to re localize. So having said that, I don't want to say thank you COVID 19, but I want to say thank you, everybody, for stepping up to the plate and realizing we just do not have to do these ridiculous amounts of travel. And that's it.

Christiana: [00:03:49] I say that as we're just celebrating, the travel brought us together. You realize there is an irony, a balance between the two

Tom: [00:03:54]. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Listeners, I'm afraid, unfortunately, you can't see that Paul is holding a hand-held microphone like he's doing karaoke. And there's something deeply comical about him. A man, at 6:00 in the morning, holding forth about this issue, holding a handheld microphone.

Paul: [00:04:08] Why do you think it's funny? At six in the morning, you have to be very special people to get me up at six in the morning, I can tell you. Right. Right.

Tom: [00:04:14] So I thought we should just touch on the fact. I mean, we're now like less than three weeks away from the COP. And Alok Sharma obviously has had the role for the last few years to try to bring countries together. But this is really the moment where the rubber is going to meet the road and just looking at what's coming out in the press, I wonder what your analysis is of this. I mean, a few months ago at the G20, all countries promised to come forward with new commitments, some have done but as we know from what we reported a couple of weeks ago, we're still on track for a rise in emissions by 2030 rather than the cut that we're looking for. And this week, his rhetoric has really stepped up, particularly focused on China, India, Saudi Arabia, the other G20 countries who haven't yet made commitments. I mean, how do we read the tea leaves here? Xi is not yet committed to come to COP. The COP president's rhetoric is getting tougher. Are we worried yet or do we still feel like something's coming down the road?

Christiana: [00:05:06] You forgot to put into that list that I think PM Morrison from Australia has said he's not coming.

Tom: [00:05:11] That's true. He has said he's not coming. Yeah, so far just him, he's formally said he's not coming.

Paul: [00:05:17] By the way, many of our listeners I was reading listener feedback from Australia and said that they wanted support, shout out to friends in Australia suffering in a very difficult situation. You know, hearts go out. PM Prime Minister Morrison absent honestly on the most important meeting, how is he going to spend the rest of his life looking back at the fact that he kind of missed the opportunity to sort of be there? And there are no words, Christiana. No words.

Christiana: [00:05:41] Well, there's no doubt that pressure is on the large countries that haven't come forth. In fact, actually, pressure is on all large countries, whether they have come forward because we know the sum total still doesn't cut it. Yeah. And it is the large countries that can make the outsized difference and it's the small countries that are suffering the outsized impacts. Right. So pressure is on. I'm sure the UK presidency is feeling the pressure, but I'm also hoping that all other countries understand that this is it. There's no more delay. There is no more, frankly, everyone has run out of any reasonable reason slash excuse because everything is possible right now. And so to step away from possibility and put yourself behind the status quo for reasons that simply have no depth anymore is very concerning.

Tom: [00:06:54] Yeah, the thing I'm worried about most, I think, and I'd love to know both of our analysis of this, is it just feels like the geopolitics is not unified around this issue. Like it kind of felt like it was in the end in the narrowing path to Paris. I mean, if you look at what Xi is talking about, it's Taiwanese reunification. It's, you know, flying jets over the South China Sea. It's the Orca submarine deal. It feels like there's huge distraction on other geopolitical issues that is preventing this moment of coming together. And I kind of worry that's going to get in the way of this moment of unity that we saw six years ago and we need to see in just three weeks time.

Paul: [00:07:25] I was pretty shocked, I guess, by speaking to the youth activist Heeta Lakhani when we were in Dubai, because she said she was amazed as as a youth activist that no countries came forward with a kind of like, wow, shocking and element of their NDCs. No one is no one politically seems to be sort of taking the opportunity to sort of really grab the attention of the whole world with the with policy innovation, I guess I would call it, or policy leadership. I mean, there are exceptions, but I just think that, you know, if you think about other spheres, you know, entertainment or business, people always want to kind of capture the headlines with their ambition. Why are nation states finding it difficult to come forward with that kind of leadership?

Christiana: [00:08:10] Well, that's interesting. The wow. Right. Because I do think that we have had a sequence of wow statements from science, from the IEA. We've had wild statements of reality and it hasn't been answered with any wild statement from any government. Are we having wild statements from corporations?

Tom: [00:08:33] I think there is some pretty impressive commitments coming out from corporations, sort of like relatively significantly before 2050 net zero pledges as well as the net positive pledges. And we'll talk to Andrew and Paul a bit later, I think and we've gone into this before. The concept of net zero has been under sustained attack. And I think that some of the question marks that's raised in people's minds about what that really means has taken some of the political potency away from some of those announcements. But I do think there's been some wild statements.

Christiana: [00:09:03] Well, today I am actually curious and interested about the fact that although there is a dearth, not complete absence, but a dearth of wow statements from companies and from corporations because we have a few. Yeah. That in that context, although we know that we haven't done that job yet, that we have people like Andrew and Paul that we are interviewing now that are already thinking beyond where we are today. They're already building on it and saying well net zero or any company or any government that can give us a plan to halving their emissions by 2030 or to net zero by 2050. That's only part of the challenge actually. They are presenting now the next wave of the challenge. So I'm very interested that they're doing that and let's listen to the interview. But they're doing that in the face of dearth of facing up to the current very urgent challenge. And it's, that dissonance is, I think, incredibly helpful.

Paul: [00:10:18] Yeah. The trouble is the word statement. And if you ask me about the amazing things corporations are doing, I don't think it's necessarily the statements. I think it's deploying substitutes for meat, better food that's not made out of meat.

Christiana: [00:10:32] Beyond deploying.

Paul: [00:10:33] It’s about video phones instead of travel. It is about building electric cars. It is about energy efficiency. It's about all this stuff. And that's where I think there's a kind of wow deeds rather than, well, statements. Yeah. The only other thing I was going to say, I don't want to lose it because we got to go to the interview in a minute is, I was pretty excited that the UN's main human rights body has overwhelmingly voted to recognise that a clean environment is a human right. And I think it's incredible that that vote was passed 43 to 0. There were four member states China, India, Japan and Russia that abstained. But essentially I think we're surrounding the problem of climate change with these different factors, whether it's about banking or whether it's about corporate action, whether it's government action, whether it's UN, whether it's a human right, you know, the rights of indigenous people. There are so many different ways we're coming at this problem now. It feels like it could be a tipping point.

Christiana: [00:11:23] Oh, my dear friend Paul, you have so walked into this.

Paul: [00:11:27] Oh, dear. This doesn't sound good. Help.

Christiana: [00:11:30] Yes.

Tom: [00:11:31] Bye. I'm just, I'll be,

Christiana: [00:11:32] Do you know who championed that resolution? From the Human Rights Council? You are such trouble. It was, of course, three fantastic women from Costa Rica.

Paul: [00:11:46] Attention.

Christiana: [00:11:47] Yes. Who are in our mission in Geneva and who have been working on this for years and not giving up on it. And so you can imagine how thrilled all of us in Costa Rica were when this came through just a few days ago. Little old Costa Rica doing it again.

Paul: [00:12:06] So calling out to the Nobel Committee, it's time that a country got the Nobel Prize. Costa Rica. Let's give it to everybody.

Tom: [00:12:11]. All right. We're going to go to the interview just to summarize where we started there. So just so listeners understand, there are four countries that have not yet made new commitments to the UN, China, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Three have made commitments that are weaker than their previous goals Mexico, Brazil and Australia and only two countries from the G7 have not yet updated their finance commitments to deliver the money that's necessary for developing countries, and that is France and Italy. So the next few weeks to know what you're looking for, in the next few weeks through to cop, do those countries that have not yet made the commitment or that have either reduction or finance come forward, that is going to be a big part of whether Glasgow is successful. Now we are going to go to our interview and we are going to talk to some wonderful old friends. Christiana, you have been friends with Paul Polman for many years. Would you like to introduce Paul? First of all.

Christiana: [00:13:03] Paul Polman.

Clay: [00:13:04] He's been on the show before.

Paul: [00:13:06] He’s been supplying you tea for years. That's actually quite literally true.

Christiana: [00:13:10] Yes. Yes, he has definitely supplied me with the elements of my tea addiction that I'm struggling to get off from, by the way. Paul Polman was a CEO of Unilever for as many years as I can remember. And then stepped down a few years ago. During his time there he really transformed that company. Now, he always argues that all he did was take it to the next step in an evolution that was already intrinsic in the company. And that may well be true, but he definitely became a spokesperson for corporate responsibility, not just around climate change, but around all the SDGs. And, and really placed Unilever very decidedly on to that path, which is being followed and even improved upon now.

Tom: [00:14:06] Yeah, absolutely. So Paul, I mean, huge leader and was enormously supportive and helpful in so many things across the whole world of dealing with climate, including the Paris Agreement. And he's written this brilliant book with Andrew Winston, who may well be known to listeners as well. He's an acclaimed writer on sustainability. He's written many books before, and their new book is called Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive By Giving More Than They Take. This is a great conversation. I hope you enjoy it and we will be back afterwards with more analysis.

Christiana: [00:14:41] Well, Andrew and Paul, thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism. First, Tom and I would like to congratulate you on the book. We've been there, done that, and we know how much work that is and how harrowing it is from the beginning to the end. In fact, even more gathering at the end. So congratulations, Andrew. You've been through that process. I don't know how many times.

Andrew Winston: [00:15:08] It feels like a million.

Christiana: [00:15:09] For Paul, it might have been the first time. Is that right, Paul?

Paul Polman: [00:15:14] It is the first time, yeah.

Christiana: [00:15:16] People ask Tom and I, is that the first and the last? And we haven't quite decided.

Paul Polman: [00:15:22] Well, this book, Christiana, is so up to date and society is moving so fast that I think we're in for updates every two or three years to move this higher.

Tom: [00:15:34] I have to say congratulations on the timing as well. It just feels like, you know, books kind of sometimes come out when they feel like they are catching a wave of interest in a particular issue. And it feels like this one in particular has just grabbed this moment where everyone's wondering what these concepts mean and you've really moved the conversation forward. So it's great.

Paul Polman: [00:15:51] And we're still friends.

Christiana: [00:15:54] Indeed. So I'm particularly thrilled for a couple of reasons. A, because as Tom knows, one of my pet peeves is the concept of net zero. I just think that zero anything is not very inspiring. And so I've been reaching out for some different concepts. But the other reason why I'm really thrilled is because I sense that as Tom has just put out, that you've really caught or rather than just shining the light on the next wave of what we used to call sustainability or net zero or do no harm. And you're definitely shining the light forward from that, realizing that it's just simply not enough to not do any harm given all the harm that we have done. It's not enough to just do no harm anymore and that we really have to move to a very, very different concept and an intent for corporations. So we're delighted. Congratulations on the book, but would you like to explain for our listeners, after all this enthusiasm, listeners are probably like, Well, what are they so enthused about? So maybe you would like to explain.

Tom: [00:17:09] Maybe you should say the title of the book.

Christiana: [00:17:11] The Net Positive. Yes. Sorry, I didn't say that. Yeah, Net positive. Honestly, just the term is so much better than Net Zero right? Yeah. But it's not just exchanging one word for the other. It truly is a very, very different concept of what corporations ought to be. In fact, beyond corporate, you focus on corporations, but beyond corporations. So would one or both of you like to explain to our listeners what net positive means?

Andrew Winston: [00:17:42] So, I mean, we're asking a simple question at core, which is, is the world better off because your business is in it? Which sounds simple, right, but is a complicated story. And the way we define net positive is much broader than the conversations. You know, net zero is used mainly around carbon and we're talking about the full environmental and social agenda. So our definition in the book is that a net positive company is one that thrives and profits by solving the world's problems, not creating them, by improving the wellbeing of everyone that they touch. So all major stakeholders, your employees, your customers, your consumers, your suppliers, communities, and really at every scale. And this is fairly new to say, really, every product, every factory, every country you're operating in. You know, obviously that's kind of a North Star. There's there's. No company that's there yet. We're not claiming Unilever is there yet, but this is a big journey. And I think what we're doing that's different hopefully than what's come before is just the level of ambition, right? That going beyond zero to a regenerative and restorative place and bringing the net concept net positive to the social side. And in the book we talk about a few concepts that I think are fairly new, which is or at least people have not wanted to talk about. And one is around really shifting advocacy and lobbying. And this is where I'd love to talk to you guys about this with your experience, And what we call net positive advocacy, where companies go into Brussels or DC or COP and are actually trying to solve systemic problems and work on the right systemic answer, not just try to go get a tax break or some specific thing for their business. That's one of the things that I think really broadens it. But, you know, I want to just say reading your book was really helpful as well. So congratulations on yours. And your concept of radical regeneration, I think fits really well with what we're talking about. So I love your response to how we're thinking about it as well. 

Paul polman [00:19:43] But what we see, Christiana and Tom, is very simple World Overshoot Day. This year is July 29th, which is the day that we use up more resources than the world can replenish, which means that after that day, we're literally stealing from future generations. So whilst many companies are moving to CSR, corporate social responsibility, it's really about being less bad. And frankly, when we overshoot planetary boundaries, we can't afford to be less bad anymore. And then other people go a step further and say, I'll go, I'll try to be sustainable, but sustainable is non-negative impact. But the world is already in regress with a lot of risks of tipping points. So that simply isn't enough anymore. So we need to start thinking restorative, reparative, regenerative, which is what we call net positive. And the leading companies in this world, the Walmarts making commitments to regenerative agriculture, protecting oceans, or the Googles making commitments to help people make choices or to take climate deniers off platforms or others making commitments to implement living wages are getting to the territory of making contributions that are actually restorative, reparative, net positive. How can you get more companies to think that what we very simply say in the book, if you break it, you own it, take the possibility of your total handprint in society, not just scope one and two, but all the effects of it and try to, it's not easy, try to bring that to a positive. Then the society will let you keep staying around.

Tom: [00:21:21] I mean, I have to say, I think the concept that you have worked on, and you nailed it really well Andrew, in your opening comments there, you know, is the world better off with your business in it? It's so simple in a way, but it's so effective and it kind of moves us past this issue that we've been dancing around for such a long time around, sustainability. Well, sustain what? You know, I mean, what are we actually talking about? What are we trying to continue? It sort of shifts our thinking, which I think is great. So I have two questions there. And I think that, it's such a revolution in how we approach things that probably some listeners are thinking, Well, what does that really look like? What would a business that is net positive look like? And you've given us a few examples there, Paul, but I'd love to hear any more examples that you've got. And then secondly, I'm curious to know, can any business be a net positive business or is it only some sectors and some sectors will need to disappear?

Paul Polman: [00:22:14] Well, like in any transformation in society, there will be an evolution of business as well. When we invented electricity, we went out of the candle business. When we are moving to electrifying our transport system, then we'll go out of the ones that stay behind and want to be in combustion. It just doesn't work anymore. And what we are really arguing for is it's better to lead increasingly. We can see, which is really interesting, Tom, that if you even look within a sector and you compare companies within the same sector, which is often easier to do, we already see now that the companies that disregard more the negative externalities don't take active action to protect nature or mitigate climate emissions, or don't work on the social compliance standards and the value chain or slave labour or child labor, and basically think that its society's problem, the financial market, is already in a great extent starting to factor in these externalities. So they actually become absolutely crucial for measuring a company's value of what we call materiality. 

Andrew Winston: [00:23:34] And I think we're seeing pieces of the net positive story. Right. There's companies that are attacking particular areas of Unilever set a goal of living wages across their entire value chain, which just improves the lives of the people that work for them fundamentally. On the carbon side, you know, Microsoft and Google, I think have set kind of a new level of goals. You know, the Microsoft's retroactive neutrality, we're going to take carbon out of the air equal to everything we've emitted since we were founded. And Google says, you know, by 2030, they want to power their centers entirely with green electrons. That's not actually what any other goal is. Net zero goals include offsets and other ways. Google is saying we only want to operate with clean energy. And the reason that gets to net positive and goes beyond zero is the only way to get there is to change the system is to change the grid, right? They can go off grid somewhat. They can do storage, they can use on site, but fundamentally they'll need the grid around them to change to and they talk about that in their goals. And that's where you get to the net positive because you're having to bring the system together. You have to bring government and civil society and business together and try to change the rules for everybody.

Tom: [00:24:38] And Andrew, sorry to jump in, I know Christiana was coming with another question, but just on those two, I mean, those two are great examples, but those two are largely materialized companies, right? I mean, they're not Walmart or companies with big material supply chains. So I definitely agree. But do you think that that could be done with companies with big physical supply chains? Well, I mean, Unilever, of course, is a big example of that.

Paul Polman: [00:24:57] I think it can be done, but these industries will transform in doing so. So if you look retroactively at the old industry, you won't be getting there. But there is no reason why Unilever can’t think about their food business as being carbon positive instead of carbon negative. There's no reason why they can't think of being a driver for solving inequality. Now, what the book talks about as well, which is a very important thing, is you have to be consistent in all these things. If we see now big companies making lofty commitments on climate but then starting to fight the US reconciliation bill because there's a slight tax increase doesn’t work. So the book actually has a paragraph in there that is the most interesting reading we find from people which we call elephants in the room. How do you deal with tax? How do you deal with CEO salaries? How do you deal with trade associations? How do you deal with money in politics and the lobbying? Because if you're not that consistent anymore, I think you will be caught with your pants down and the public increasingly, it's not only the young anymore actually, it's as much our generation that will say, hey, I don't want to invest my money in these companies. I don't want to buy my products, and certainly I don't want to work for these companies. The amount of activism that is now coming up in companies itself, that is unheard of versus what we even thought possible one or two years ago. I always say in every company now there's a Greta Thunberg. So this consistency is a very important thing that this book is also talking about. That makes it difficult and it's a moving field, so you'll never arrive at where you are because societal expectations will keep changing as well.

Christiana: [00:26:39] Well, Paul and Andrew, thank you so much. Thank you for joining us here. You might know that our tradition is to ask people to place themselves somewhere along in outrage and optimism

Tom: [00:26:53] Paul knows it because he's done it.

Christiana: [00:26:54] Yeah, Paul already knows. I'm not sure if he sent you the memo that we were going to ask this. And I guess we know where you would place yourselves in a continuum between outrage and optimism. But I specifically would like to ask you, the book really lights a torch, but we will only be able to make a difference if many people pick up that torch and practice it. And so to that specific challenge, which goes beyond putting the concept out to the uptake of the challenge in a timely fashion, where are you on a continuum between concern and optimism?

Andrew Winston: [00:27:43] Well, first, I'd say I think Paul and I discovered working together for a couple of years that I'm definitely further on the outrage side than he is. And he I mean, he really helped in a way, because he maintains this optimism that is really powerful. And I think there's reason to be optimistic. But, you know, when you see things like these U.S. companies fighting the only climate bill that's been around, you know, because of taxes, it's pretty outrageous, right? It makes me outraged. So I think I'm concerned about the speed. I am. I think companies are still going too slowly. I will say this, everybody's at the table now. I've been doing this for 20 years. And what's changed in the last couple of years is that there's nobody sitting on the sidelines really. Right. Every large company in the world has a sustainability report, has goals. So there's companies now finally saying, oh, we have to look at this sustainability stuff. I think that's the end of the first inning or the end of the beginning. Right. And now we've got everybody. So how do we get everybody at speed? And I think it's these leading edge companies that are pushing fast that hopefully can bring others along through, you know, pressure on their suppliers, on their peers, on their partners. And that's how I think we pick up speed. And with investors finally asking questions for the first time really ever, if they keep doing that, the speed will pick up. 

Christiana: [00:29:03] Paul?

Paul Polman: [00:29:05] Yeah, well, we can be optimistic if we don't have that outrage. That's why it's so brilliant what you guys are doing. The moment we are satisfied and this is where we are the most dangerous part. So unless we keep that flame inside of us of that anxiety that we're not doing enough, that we need to run faster and set the bar higher for our children and for their children, can we not be optimistic? But if you see how long, how far we have come, even in the last one or two years time, it would have been unthinkable to many people the way technology is moving, the way we see a critical mass of companies going together, the way that the voices are now being heard in the streets and frankly, the way that even governments are moving in terms of making their commitments. If we can now put these words into actions and it starts with words, which is a normal thing, if we can now force it into action, but take collective responsibility because none of us can do this alone. We're not going to solve it by just eating a little bit less meat or driving a little bit less in a car. We're only going to solve it collectively at the level where we are now. If we rise to that challenge in these broader partnerships for the common good, where we all know very well that if we focus on the people that suffer most, ultimately we will be better off ourselves as well. And that is the leadership that we need right now, that level of moral leadership on net positive leadership in all of us. And that's the ultimate challenge. I think we can do it. Frankly, once more, we don't have a choice.

Christiana: [00:30:31] We don't have a choice. Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism. But above all, thank you so much for a book that truly does light the torch forward. Thank you.

Paul Polman: [00:30:44] Thanks.

Tom: [00:30:54] How fantastic. Do you get a chance to speak to Paul again and also to have Andrew on the podcast? What did you both leave that conversation with?

Paul: [00:31:00] Well, I was, first of all, completely gutted not to be in the conversation, because I think,

Tom: [00:31:05] We missed you.

Paul: [00:31:06] Well, I missed them and you. But them too, because I see you often and them not so often. I think that they've completely nailed a few key points. Like one is, they talk about net positive advocacy. So they're very down on corporations criticizing or impeding the political process. But there's also saying the reverse corporations have got a responsibility to go to government and call for what they want, systemic improvements. I think it's absolutely key to say big companies have to recognise they're in a system and they and they need to change that system. And this links to universal owner theory, which I'm going to talk about for as long as I'm around, but not today. The other thing I think that I really admired about them was highlighting inequality, actually, and talking about paying living wages, which I think is going to be incredibly important part of the the great settlement on climate change, actually, as the public, you know, has to kind of fund and change to our entire industrial system. It is only right and proper that they're being paid living wages and these things start to link up. So I got very excited by that holistic thinking and you, excellent question Christiana, you asked them is it harder to put these additional burdens on corporations? But I think for large companies, Paul Polman has experienced of really thinking it through and saying, you build the corporate reputation by addressing these issues holistically. And in fact, I believe we are. He's ultimately right when he says the cost of not doing so is going to be greater than the cost of doing so. I was bowled over by them both. And Andrew has got such great energy.

Tom: [00:32:43] He does yeah.

Christiana: [00:32:44] I was taken by the fact that, as I said in the beginning, they're definitely already showing us what the next wave of corporate responsibility and the role of corporations in society is. And I was impressed that that is already coming to the table before we've actually conquered the wave that we're writing right now. And I think that is excellent, that we already know where we're going. I was also very impressed that out of the entire complexity, because frankly they leave no topic out of corporate responsibility. But I was impressed that out of that complexity, they tweeze out two things that they feel are actually the pinnacle of the responsibility, and that is climate and inequality. And I thought how interesting to put those two at the same level. Because from my perspective, I've always put climate at the top because of the timing of it. But I had never until now considered inequality may have a similar timing in it. Yeah, right. Inequality may have a similar timing because there's only so much inequality that society can tolerate. And so do we have two ticking bombs here, climate and inequality actually working in tandem with each other. So I want to really think about that a little bit more, but I thought it's a very interesting way of prioritizing the challenges.

Tom: [00:34:24] It's a great point. And I think the thing about inequality having a ticking time, but it's also non-linear like climate change, right? It's sort of like it gets worse, worse, worse than suddenly, you know, you get a major shift, whether it's political or whatever has happened so suddenly.

Christiana: [00:34:36] Suddenly the French Revolution.

Tom: [00:34:37] Or Brexit.

Christiana: [00:34:38] Or Brexit, right.

Tom: [00:34:38] Yeah. Or Trump.

Paul: [00:34:39] Well, I remember the 6th of January, you know, like that could be an insurrection in the United States. And to our listeners, to the United States, you know, if someone turns up from one party state with a gun, you're not rich anymore. All your money is gone. You know, we have social system conditions, we have environmental system conditions. And, you know, wealth redistribution is about a living wages, is about fixing. One of those problems. I actually kind of think we've got to fix them both together because I think they're blocking together. You've taught certainly me, Christiana, and many other people that there is a terrible inequality in climate change. Also in as much as the industrialized world has cause problems that are being visited upon the developing economies. So yeah, I think they're interlinked problems and unblocking them together seems to me to be like an important lesson that we're just beginning to learn.

Tom: [00:35:25] Hmm. Absolutely. And it's such a great point. And I think that I love that they called net positive. Right. Because I've heard that concept like beyond net zero raise to negative concept, which is challenging, but understandable and it has a lot of momentum. I've heard what they're talking about as both sort of carbon negative and carbon positive, which is we probably need another “What the Hale” does this mean to pull these things apart? But I love that they called it net positive. And in a way, sometimes you can solve a very complex problem sometimes by making it bigger in a strange way. Right. And we've struggled for years with sustainability around what do you sustain? Are we just trying to get to the point where we're neutral on the surrounding world around us and sort of nobody knows we're here? But actually what they're talking about is how can we contribute to all elements of society and nature? And it might that's a much more compelling vision to get your arms around. And weirdly, we might find that even though it feels more difficult because it's bigger, you've got to go further. It actually might be easier to capture the imagination of the world with something that actually gets us to the point where we solve the problem. So I thought it was fantastic. So good. They put the book out. I really hope it's widely read.

Paul: [00:36:35] And Paul Polman is so brave to say, you know, the elephant in the room is tax money in politics, lobbying trade association, CEO pay. Wow. He's really putting it out there, not afraid to take stuff on. And I also thought he was super smart to observe that we're in an evolution here and we're never going to arrive, he said, because society keeps changing. And I thought of that phrase the struggle without end, an excellent guiding principle for those of us seeking to resolve climate change, inequality and other problems.

Tom: [00:37:03] The name of the founding president of Costa Rica's farm land.

Christiana: [00:37:09] Indeed, the struggle without end.

Tom: [00:37:11] Okay. Anything else either of you want to add? Before we go to our musical guest.

Christiana: [00:37:15] I'm intrigued about the relationship between, I'm just putting this out for future consideration, the relationship between Net Positive and Green Swans, the book put out by John Elkington. So here's my invitation that we also invite John on the podcast.

Tom: [00:37:32] Great idea. Green swans. Excellent. All right, so. As ever. This has been so nice to see you both do this in person. Yeah, yeah. And we'll be together, maybe not next week, but certainly for a few episodes in the coming weeks. With me in London after this, then we'll be at COP. So, you know, hopefully we'll have Clay with us for a bit as well.

Paul: [00:37:57] IRL Clay

Tom: [00:37:59] Clay, you want to say anything?

Clay: [00:38:03] Hi, everyone. I've now met every single one on the podcast in person. Everyone's very, very nice. Marina, do you want to say anything?

Paul: [00:38:15] Yes.

Marina: [00:38:17] I missed this team.

Tom: [00:38:22] All right, so here we go. Musical artist as ever, we'll be playing you out with a track called New Future from the band Waco. Vocalist Jack will introduce it and all proceeds from their recent album are being donated to Charity Beyond Gender, who do vital work with men and boys to make society fairer and safer for women and girls. Here you go. Hope you enjoy it. We will see you next week.

Christiana: [00:38:41] Bye bye.

Clay: [00:38:43] Bye. Wait, Marina. Come say bye.

Marina: [00:38:46] Adios, hasta la proxima.

Waco: [00:38:50] Our inspirations for this song, A New Future, were science fiction capitalism and its many flaws the survival of the human species, feminism and a Canadian rock band called Rush. I think it's important that artists engage with climate change and other social issues because things need to change now. It's urgent. And if artists and bands have massive and diverse followings, then it could kind of help spread awareness and inspire change around certain issues. But I don't think that every band and artist has to always be actively involved in tackling social issues. Actually, I believe that sometimes it's fine to just listen and learn, and I also think that art is just as valid when it provides escapism. Right? The Conservative Party make me feel outraged. Young people make me feel optimistic. 

A New Future by Waco [00:39:48] [Song Plays]

Clay: [00:46:56] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. What a tune, Waco, bringing the noise. Waco wants to create a better world. Profits from the sale of their single will be donated to the charity Beyond Gender, who do vital work with men and boys for a fairer and safer society. Preventing gender based violence. Creating gender equality. A fairer and safer society. It's what it's all about. So thank you, Waco, for letting us play and share your music and what you're passionate about. There is a cosmically punkish music video for the song that we just played. It's got puppets, space, trippy visuals. You've got to check it out. Link in the show notes. Thanks, guys. So if this is your first time listening, I'm Clay, producer of the podcast and I'm in Edinburgh right now. It's my first time in Scotland. It's going very well. Three days in and I got to meet the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. But hey, that's a story for next week. She gave this incredible TED Talk. Tom said it was one of, if not the best TED Talk he's ever seen, and he's done one so high marks. I say all this to say, I don't want you to feel left out, and neither does TED. Every day TED is releasing a blog with updates from the event, so you can go to the link in the show notes for that. So I'm sitting there in one of the TED sessions this week and I'm thinking, okay, I need to share something with everybody during the credits this week and when I saw this project, I knew it was the one. So this year, TED Countdown did an open call to photographers to submit images that illustrate climate causes and impacts to climate justice solutions and positive change. You know, most images we see of climate change kind of tell a homogenized, bland, nebulous version of the crisis. They're repetitive, predictable, not very engaging and basically communicating. Climate change is somewhere out there happening to someone else. And I know it's weird to talk about what something looks like on the podcast, so you just need to see it for yourself. But the images are stunning. All photographers were compensated for their work, which is really important. And now you can license these photos for free to tell the real and representative story of what's happening right here. This is a really cool idea. So anyway, use these images. Tell the real story. Everyone in the theater was moved by what we saw. Link in the show notes to check that out. Okay. Before I go, massive thank you to Paul Polman and Andrew Winston for joining us on the podcast. As our guests this week, I've got a link to purchase their new book, Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take in the show notes. Check it out. Okay. That's all, folks. Next week, Nicola Sturgeon. Don't miss it. We'll see you then.


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