Net Positive: Having More Positive than Negative Impact

Net Positive


Net positive is a principle which denotes that you should maintain a positive balance in life, by doing more positive things, such as improving the environment, than you do negative things, such as harming the environment. For example, when it comes to your friendships, pursuing a net positive can mean trying to help your friends more often than you ask them for help.

This principle can apply to various domains, such as the environment and personal relationships, and can also apply to various entities, such as individuals, companies, or countries. In addition, it can be conceptualized in various similar ways depending on the context, such as using the idea of giving more than you take, helping more than you harm, and doing your part to make the situation better.

Implementing this principle can have substantial moral and practical benefits, so it’s worthwhile to understand it. As such, in the following article you will learn more about net positive, see why applying it can be beneficial, and understand how you can implement it yourself as effectively as possible.


Examples of net positive

An example of net positive in the environmental context is that an organization can try to generate more electrical energy than they consume.

Examples of ways in which individuals can pursue net positive in their life are the following:

  • You can try to contribute to your community more than you take from it. For example, if you frequently ask for help from members of your community, whether that community is a sports team or an online crafts group, you can try to make a notable effort to help others in that community whenever you can.
  • You can try to help the environment more than you harm it. For example, each time you go hiking, you could take a small bag with you, and pick up a few small pieces of trash to clean up the trail as you go along.
  • You can try and finish each day a little further ahead than where you’ve started. For example, if your goal is to improve your health, you can try to add another healthy habit that you want to maintain each day, such as doing a bit more exercise or drinking a bit less soda.

Furthermore, this concept can also be implemented in other domains, such as software development, where it’s important to identify programmers who are not net positive, in the sense that they hinder projects more than they help them, since removing such programmers can sometimes be more beneficial than adding good programmers.

Taken together, these examples illustrate the wide range of domains in which the principle of net positive can be pursued, though this principle is primarily discussed in the context of the environmental policies of large organizations.

Finally, note this concept has been formulated in various forms throughout history. A notable example of this is attributed to Robert Baden-Powell, who inspired the world’s Scout Movement, and who said that you should “leave this world a little better than you found it”.


The potential benefits of net positive

There are several reasons why implementing a net-positive approach can be beneficial.

First, pursuing net positive can be seen as the right thing to do from a moral and ethical perspective, since it involves trying to make a positive impact, and since it often involves acting in an altruistic manner, by helping others even when you don’t benefit directly from your actions.

The moral value of this approach can become apparent when you contrast it with the possible alternatives, and namely with the concept of net negative, which is the approach of doing more negative things than positive ones, in life, and with the concept of net neutral, which involves having a balance between positive and negative things, without making a positive impact.

Specifically, net negative leads means that the situation becomes worse and worse over time, which can eventually become unsustainable. Similarly, pursuit of net neutral can not only lead to stagnation and lack of progress, but it can also end up leading to a worse situation over time, due to issues such as leaving no margin for error.

Furthermore, beyond the moral benefits net positive, there are additional potential benefits to implementing this principle:

  • You can get satisfaction from feeling you did the right thing. Simply put, implementing the concept of net positive can help you feel better about yourself and about your actions, which is a beneficial outcome from a psychological perspective.
  • You can get the motivation to take action. Wanting to be net positive could motivate you to take action in areas where you otherwise wouldn’t, and give you an idea of what sort of action to take.
  • You can improve your situation with regard to whatever you’re trying to be net positive in. For example, if your goal is to make your favorite hiking trail cleaner, pursuing a net positive is a way to achieve that.
  • You can encourage others to act in a similar way, which can lead to various positive outcomes. For example, if people see you acting in a way that is better for the environment, this could prompt them to act the same way.
  • You can make a good impression on other people, and connect with them better. People are often impressed by those who make a positive impact, so by pursuing and being net positive in certain domains you can create a positive image for yourself, and improve your reputation and connections.


How to be net positive

To pursue net positive, you should try to have more positive impact (e.g., giving to others) than negative impact (e.g., taking from others), either in general or in a specific domain (e.g., when it comes to personal relationships). To achieve this, you can do the following:

  • Increase the amount and impact of the positive things that you do. For example, you can try to help your friends more frequently or to give more substantial aid whenever you help them.
  • Decrease the amount and impact of the negative things that you do. For example, you can try to do as much as reasonably possible on your own before asking for help from your friends.

When doing this, it can help to keep the benefits of net positive in mind, particularly if you need motivation to take action.

In addition, when pursuing net positive, there are a few important things that you should keep in mind:

  • You should ask yourself how much net positive you want to achieve, and why. For example, if you feel that you’re able to contribute more than most people in some domain, you might choose to achieve a greater net positive than if you’re struggling in that domain.
  • Net positive shouldn’t be an excuse for negative behavior. Specifically, you shouldn’t use the fact that you do good in some domains in order to justify causing harm in other domains, and don’t use the fact that you have an overall positive impact in order to justify actions that you shouldn’t perform. For example, picking up trash at the beach doesn’t mean that you should litter at the park.
  • This principle is just one of many that you can use, and should be implemented with common sense. For example, even if your pursuit of net positive means that you want to help others, that doesn’t mean that you have to let malicious people take advantage of your generosity.


Implementing net positive toward yourself

Remember that it can be highly beneficial to implement the concept of net positive with regard to your own personal development. Essentially, this means that you should constantly try to improve yourself, and finish each day/week/month/year in a slightly better way than you were before.

For example, if you feel that your bedroom is messy, you could challenge yourself to finish each day with it a bit cleaner and more organized than it was before, until you can get it all cleaned up. Similarly, if you want to get in better shape, you can decide that each day you will do at least one set of exercise, so you will slowly become more fit over time.


Implementing net positive in groups

In addition to implementing the concept of net positive by yourself, you can also encourage its use as a policy in groups that you’re a part of. Leading through personal example can potentially be a good way to accomplish this, since it can help convince others in your group that maintaining a net positive is important.

Note that in cases where the philosophical benefits of net positive don’t appeal to other members of a group, you can encourage the implementation of this concept by emphasizing its practical benefits. For example, many companies choose to adopt large-scale net-positive policies simply because they believe that it will improve how their brand is perceived by customers, which will increase their profitability.

This form of pragmatic motivation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since even though some might argue that it’s preferable to pursue net positive due to moral considerations, from a practical perspective what matters more is the end result, which means that it can be more important that people help others than that people will help others for the right reasons.

For example, if you can’t convince a corporation to care more about the environment than about their profits, it’s still more beneficial to get them to adopt greener practices such as the net-positive initiative because they think that it will be better for their brand, than to have them not care about the environment at all.


If you can’t reach a net positive

There might be times in your life where you won’t be able to reach a net positive, for whatever reason. For example, it might be that you’re struggling financially, or that you’re new to a hobby so you find yourself constantly needing help, without being able to give much in return.

This is completely understandable, and you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself for it. Simply accept that at the present moment, you might need more help than you can give others, and try to do the best you can, given the circumstances. Later, when you’re in a better place, try to pay others back for all the help that they’ve given you when you needed it.

As one eminent stoic philosopher said:

“Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?”

— From “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius (Book VII, Passage 7)

The same applies when encouraging others to reach a net positive. Specifically, you should accept the fact that different people under different circumstances have different abilities to give back to others, and so you shouldn’t view others negatively for failing to reach a net positive, if it’s clear that they are trying to make a positive impact.

Finally, there are two more things worth keeping in mind in situations where you feel that you can’t reach a net positive:

  • Just because you can’t reach a net positive, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to do better. For example, even if you’re a beginner at a certain hobby, and it’s clear that you need more help from others than you can currently give back, you can still try to make a positive impact on the community by being friendly to people.
  • If you can’t reach net positive in one domain, you can make up for it in others. For example, if you find yourself needing a lot of help from someone, without being able to help them in return, it can still be worthwhile to try and help other people instead.


Accounting for the net impact of things

Different things in your life—such as your habits, your hobbies, and your friends—have a different net impact on you. To make your life better, it can be useful to assess that impact, and then make changes to your life that maximize the positive impact that you experience from these things, while minimizing the negative impact.

For example, if you realize that a certain person has a net negative impact on your life, for example because they make you unhappy, you can do things such as talk to them about the issue, limit your interactions with them to specific things, or cut them out of your life entirely.

On the other hand, if you realize that a certain person has a net positive impact on your life, you can, for example, consider spending more time with them, or try to connect with other people who have a similar positive impact on you.


Terminology and associated concepts

Net positive is sometimes also referred to as net gain or net positive impact.

It is sometimes contrasted with net negative (also referred to net loss or net negative impact), and with net neutral (also referred to as no net loss or net zero).

In addition, similar concepts are sometimes also used, such as net-zero energy, which refers to entities, such as companies or buildings, which generate as much energy as they consume.

Finally, in the environmental context, an entity’s negative impact (e.g., a company’s energy consumption) is sometimes referred to as its footprint, while its positive impact (e.g., a company’s energy production) is referred to as handprint, though other distinctions are sometimes also used.


Summary and conclusions

  • Net positive is a principle which denotes that you should maintain a positive balance in life, by doing more positive things, such as improving the environment, than you do negative things, such as harming the environment.
  • This principle can apply to various entities, such as individuals, companies, or countries, and to various domains, such as the environment, relationships, and personal development.
  • Pursuing net positive can be beneficial not only from a moral perspective but also from a practical one, since it can make you feel that you did the right thing, motivate you to take action, encourage others to act the same way, and help you make a good impression on people.
  • To pursue net positive, you can increase the amount and impact of the positive things that you do, or decrease the amount and impact of the negative things that you do.
  • Even if you can’t reach a net positive, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to do better, and furthermore, if you can’t reach net positive in one domain, you can try to make up for it in other domains, depending on your motivations for pursuing it.