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Summary: Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take by Paul Polman & Andrew Winston

Key Takeaways

  • Business as usual is no longer an option. The world is facing unprecedented challenges that require urgent and radical action. How can business leaders rise to the occasion and create positive change? In this article, we will review the book Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, which offers a new vision and a new model for business leadership in the 21st century.
  • If you are interested in learning more about how to become a net positive leader and how to build a net positive business, read on and discover the four critical paths and the practical tools that the authors provide. You will also find out how some of the world’s most successful and innovative companies are already applying the net positive principles and practices to create value for themselves and for society.

Net Positive (2021) explores the transformative concept of businesses moving beyond profit to creating substantial, positive value for people and the planet. It delves into the revolutionary approach of net positive companies which are embracing a holistic responsibility to benefit multiple stakeholders, drive systemic change, and foster sustainable futures. It offers profound insights into how companies and leaders can be harbingers of positive, enduring change in the world.

Summary: Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take by Paul Polman & Andrew Winston

Introduction: Discover transformative strategies to revamp your business models and make a significant positive impact on the world

How can you, as a business leader, redefine the essence of success, moving beyond profit to ignite positive, substantial change in the world?

You see, in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, merely chasing profits is no longer enough. Companies are being prompted to reflect on deeper purposes, examining how they impact people and the planet. At the heart of this transformation lies the revolutionary concept of “net positive” – a vision of businesses not just minimizing harm, but actively and significantly benefiting the world. Leadership plays a pivotal role in this transformative model: visionaries who don’t just manage, but who inspire and embody the values of positive change.

In this summary, you’ll learn about the essence of the net positive business model and the unique leadership traits that bring it to life, delving into one key theme that underpins this transformative approach.

Ready to change your organization and the world? Let’s go!

Crafting a revolutionary business model for positive impact

What does it look like when a company isn’t focused solely on profits? In a world where the traditional business model has long been profit-centric, this idea urges companies to redefine their purpose, extending their responsibility to people and the planet. This “net positive” approach calls for a broader vision, where the aim is to create substantial positive value that enriches lives, uplifts communities, and restores the environment.

Being net positive means going beyond short-term gains and superficial corporate social responsibility initiatives; it asks businesses to genuinely embrace long-term thinking and commit to holistic positive impacts. It’s about serving multiple stakeholders – employees, customers, communities, and the planet – and partnering with them to bring about systemic change. In this transformative model, shareholder returns become a result of doing good, rather than the primary objective of the business.

Of course, leadership plays a crucial role in transitioning to this innovative business model. It demands leaders who are courageous and purpose-driven, individuals who aren’t afraid to go against the grain to create a world that is inherently better. They’re leaders who, motivated by a profound sense of duty and purpose, are eager to use business as a vehicle for positive change.

Take the example of the consumer goods company, Unilever. At Unilever, sustainability isn’t an afterthought; it’s intertwined with business growth. The CEO, a champion of the net positive model, eliminated quarterly reporting to stave off short-term pressures and make room for long-term, meaningful initiatives. Similarly, Yvon Chouinard, founder of clothing brand Patagonia, built a highly successful enterprise grounded in environmental protection and steadfast values, demonstrating that profitability and responsibility can coexist harmoniously.

John Replogle, who chose purpose over profit, transitioned from the prosperous beer industry to lead brands like Burt’s Bees and Seventh Generation – companies renowned for their sustainable ethos. For these individuals, purpose is a compass; it grants meaning and fuels perseverance through challenges, akin to how psychiatrist Victor Frankl found hope and meaning amid the horrors of Nazi concentration camps.

In essence, adopting a net positive model isn’t merely about mitigating negative impacts or about compliance; it’s about proactively contributing to a better world. It invites you to envisage business as a catalyst for good, instigating a ripple effect of positive change, fortified by leaders who view purpose as their North Star, guiding their journey towards meaningful, enduring value for all.

So, how does a leader do this? That’s what you’ll learn in the next section.

Emboldening leadership for a net positive future

As you’ve learned, a net positive business is one that sees creating substantial positive value for people and the planet as part of its core responsibilities. What inherent leadership qualities are required to nurture such transformative organizations?

In the realm of net positive, leadership goes beyond conventional managerial acumen and strategic prowess. It demands a symphony of values, including a profound moral compass, enlightened by purpose, humility, courage, and an intrinsic care for others.

Leaders in the net positive environment don’t just manage; they inspire. They bring their entire humanity into their roles, weaving compassion and empathy into the fabric of their leadership styles. They are the catalysts, igniting passion and unity amongst their teams around shared, meaningful goals. They are the brave hearts, which possess the courage to voice truth to authorities, make tough decisions, and propel change beyond the traditional confines of business.

Courage for a net positive leader isn’t just about bravery; it’s about a relentless pursuit of transformation, a constant endeavor to tread the path less traveled, and a determination to transcend the mundane and routine. These leaders realize the intrinsic role of fortune in their lives and continually strive to see the world through others’ perspectives – to understand, connect, and grow. They embody the values they preach, ensuring their actions are reflections of their beliefs, living manifestations of their advocacies.

But leading a net positive company is not a solitary journey. It necessitates forging valuable and meaningful partnerships. It calls for leaders to be approachable, cooperative, and to see every interaction as a dance of equals, a convergence of visions and values. In this world, every handshake is a step towards collective progress, every collaboration a bridge to a common future.

In conclusion, the essence of fostering a net positive company is not merely in its foundational principles, it’s also the leadership that breathes life into it. Leaders who are armored in humility and empathy, fueled by purpose and courage, and anchored in unyielding moral values, become the architects of companies that are not just successful but are harbingers of positive, enduring change. These leaders and their values are the lighthouses, guiding ships towards shores where business is not just about flourishing economically but is enriching the world and the lives therein.

That’s the net positive spirit.


Embracing the net positive business model is a transformative step towards building a sustainable future. This approach is not merely a theory but a revolutionary practice, where companies actively create a significant positive impact on people and the planet, led by visionary and transformative leaders who embody and inspire change. These leaders, fueled by purpose, humility, and moral values, are the harbingers of companies that go beyond economic gains to enriching the world. By applying these principles and practices to contribute to a more balanced and equitable world, you too can be part of this change.

About the Author

Paul Polman and Andrew Winston


Entrepreneurship, Management, Leadership, Business, Sustainability, Social Impact, Innovation, Strategy, Economics, Environment, Ethics


The book Net Positive is a manifesto for a new kind of business leadership that aims to solve the world’s biggest challenges while creating value for all stakeholders. The authors, Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever, and Andrew Winston, a leading expert on corporate sustainability, argue that the traditional model of maximizing profits and shareholder returns is outdated and unsustainable in the face of climate change, inequality, and social unrest. They propose a radical shift in mindset and practice, where businesses become net positive, meaning they contribute more to the world than they use or take.

To achieve this, they outline four critical paths that net positive companies must follow:

  • Set ambitious goals that go beyond reducing harm and aim to regenerate and restore the natural and social systems they depend on.
  • Redesign their products, services, and operations to minimize their negative impacts and maximize their positive impacts on people and the planet.
  • Engage and collaborate with their stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, investors, communities, and governments, to co-create solutions and share value.
  • Advocate and influence for systemic change, using their voice and power to shape policies and markets that support a net positive future.

The book is filled with inspiring examples and practical tools from Unilever and other leading companies, such as IKEA, Patagonia, Salesforce, and Microsoft, that have embarked on the net positive journey. The authors also address the common challenges and barriers that net positive leaders face, such as balancing short-term and long-term priorities, measuring and communicating impact, and dealing with trade-offs and dilemmas. They offer guidance and advice on how to overcome these obstacles and build a net positive culture and mindset within the organization.

Net Positive is a visionary and timely book that challenges and inspires business leaders to rethink their role and responsibility in society. The authors combine their extensive experience and expertise to offer a compelling and practical framework for creating net positive businesses that can thrive by giving more than they take.

The book is not only a call to action, but also a roadmap and a toolkit for achieving net positive impact. It is rich with insights, examples, and resources that can help leaders transform their businesses and contribute to a better world. The book is also a hopeful and optimistic message that shows how business can be a force for good and a catalyst for change. Net Positive is a must-read for anyone who wants to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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