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  • Shiba Kurian

How organizations can overcome challenges to net-positive impact transition

Updated: Feb 2

Amid climate change challenges, organizations, including NGOs, have the opportunity to ensure their products and services have a net-positive impact on people and the planet. But what’s holding them back? How can they gain from taking that risk?

In a paper titled Why being sustainable is not enough: embracing a net positive impact, Ulrich Lichtenthaler, a strategy and innovation professor at the International School of Management, Germany, defines positive sustainability like this:

“The combination of doing good and avoiding bad to arrive at innovative solutions for achieving a “net positive impact” in the core business, rather than merely targeting “no net loss” by reducing harm for the environment and society.”

Such a transition to net-positive entails reducing the negative impact of businesses while giving back more to society, the environment, and the business itself. The accelerates the creation of circular economy for several challenges staring at us, including waste, food insecurity, energy crisis, and employment opportunities.

This requires organizations to think beyond net-zero strategies and conventional perceptions of sustainability. It demands building practices such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) into businesses, and not merely as supplementary and sporadic services for sustainability reporting. However, several factors keep organizations from making that fundamental transformation.

The challenges of a net-positive transition

  1. To initiate fundamental change, organizations must challenge their status quo, and consider innovations that most probably disrupt their current successful models. This is understandably hard to do from ‘the inside.’

  2. Such disruptive innovations do not directly guarantee success and could backfire on the brand’s reputation. Thus, some companies are reluctant to pilot as failing is not an option for them, or at least, they perceive it so.

  3. The culture, DNA, incentives, and structure of traditional organizations are wired differently. Creating an innovative entrepreneurial approach within such a framework is already challenging. It is even more challenging with an impact entrepreneurial approach, since it adds another dimension that is not grounded in any framework yet.

  4. The sustainability world is enormous, and is still being explored on a global level. The unfamiliarity with the vast concepts, practices, impediments, and opportunities leaves organizations groping in the dark. Therefore, the tendency is to see it as a threat and focus on minimizing risk and costs, instead of seizing the opportunity for improving.

  5. With numerous value chain partners and agreements tied to their products and services, organizations find themselves in a bind to make any wiggle room for a transition.

The good news is that these challenges present numerous opportunities and possibilities for frontrunning organizations to benefit from effecting change in the market, and at the same time, in creating long-term value for their business. Circular innovation and impact experts, such as Powered By Enviu, assist organizations in meeting their pledges, targets, and policies with purpose and impact at the core. How? Innovative business models are the key to powering and driving such core changes.

How Powered By Enviu helps overcome these challenges

Being an innovation agency, Powered By Enviu designs, tests, pilots, and implements innovative models that contribute to a circular economy and business with a positive impact. It builds on Enviu’s 19 years of experience in the impact space, where the organization developed proven methodology to innovate change in effective and successful ways. The Enviu team has engaged in extensive trial and error to design human-centered and scalable business models.

The agency will focus on four key activities: Issue and mapping opportunity; disruptive design and modeling; lean validation and piloting; and building coalition to maximize the impact.

Powered By Enviu has an informed understanding of the plausible risks of the transition. It takes those risks away because it will pilot and test for the organizations, ensuring low risk and high effectiveness in implementation.

Issue and opportunity mapping: To secure a fundamental innovation perspective, we do a data-driven analysis of the system: market and value chain dynamics, customer needs, legislation, (global) innovations and more to formulate impactful and viable change.

Example: DesertSpring

Enviu thoroughly analyzed the value chain of leather, understanding its market dynamics, key issues, systematic barriers, levers to innovate, and potential partnerships. The study resulted in the creation of the company DesertSpring, which provides a chemical-free and bio-based alternative to fossil and metal-based tanning agents.


Disruptive design and modelling: Enviu reimagines and redesigns solutions and business models using market and customer insights through a human-centered design approach.

Example: SokoFresh

SokoFresh, an Enviu venture, was launched with the audacious goal of bringing down food loss in the local value chain in East Africa from 40% to 0%. The business currently provides farmers with off-grid cold storage as a service with direct market access, and it has already reduced food waste to 2%.


Lean validation and piloting: Enviu tests solutions in practice, validates business models quickly, and either fails fast or pilots and pivots to success — all with an open mind and without (in-company) barriers, risks and restrictions.

Example: Reweave

The primary goal of Enviu's Reweave program is to create a circular textiles value chain in India. UpTex, the first circular textile waste-sourcing business, is one example of multiple unique solutions that Enviu designs, tests, and builds as part of the bottom-up implementation of the vision.


Building a coalition to maximize the impact: In collaboration with stakeholders and/or competitors, we investigate and put into practice pre-competitive models and eco-systems for speed and scale.

Example: Reuse coalition

In the Netherlands, Enviu established a coalition of eight front running companies to design, test, and build a shared infrastructure for logistics and cleaning for reusable cups and containers to-go.

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