John Elkington’s Zeronauts ‘Roll of Honor’ – Interview with Ralph Thurm


In May John Elkington’s book ‘The Zeronauts – Breaking the sustainability barrier’ got published and since then gets a lot of attention in the sustainability community and beyond. In his book about the new breed of inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, investors, managers, or educators who promote wealth creation while driving adverse environmental, social, and economic impacts toward zero, John Elkington has come up with an inaugural ‘Roll of Honor’, 50 Zeronauts that are examples for this new breed, coming from different constituencies. John admits that some of them didn’t even know that they were infected with the ‘zero-gen’ and simply did what the did because it made complete sense. I am very humbled and happy to be amongst the chosen few, however I am thinking that my journey to zero has also just begun. Please find below a short interview that explains my rationale, intentions and beliefs for the ‘zero agenda’. You can find many more examples on and in John’s blog with 2degreesnetwork, to be found at

Ralph, you have become a leading proponent of Zeronautics. Why?

“My journey towards Zeronautics began in 2005/2006 when I was working with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and saw a growing gap in the area of Sustainability Reporting.  My question: How could you assess the positioning of a given company’s sustainability performance against a real benchmark?”  (This issue was addressed by the Sustainability Context Principle in GRI G3.)

“The indicator section of G3 wasn’t able to capture this need due to the lack of globally accepted and applicable ‘denominators’. To date, we can only measure efficiencies and relative levels of performance, and can only get a sense of whether organizations have become ‘less bad’ in their material focus areas.  What is missing is a core definition of what is actually ‘good’.”

But why is zero-based thinking needed?

“We are all somehow flying blind. I was immediately excited when I heard about the Zeronauts book project, at a GRI event in Rome in late 2010. Since then Deloitte Innovation and Volans have worked together to work out how to implement the book’s agenda into the day-to-day world of companies.”

“Much is going on that seems to be headed towards the idea of what the book dubs a 1-Earth Economy, with buzzwords and phrases like ‘sustainable capitalism’, ‘beyond GDP’, the ‘circular economy’, to mention just a few. I came up with the term ‘Zero Impact Growth’ as the minimum ‘North Star’ for our work, a door opener and conversation starter as we work towards measurable and commonly accepted denominators.”

“I especially like the embracing character of the emerging discipline of Zeronautics, which I see as a complementary development to the many existing initiatives in the ‘Sustainability Quilt’. I value the opportunity to use Zeronautics as a reality check in terms of individual and organizational effectiveness. The goal has to be a jointly agreed upon Zero Impact Growth Framework.”

“We need many more Zeronauts, in all areas of society and in the corporate world. As Yogi Berra once said: ‘You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.’ A first step will be our Zeronauts Symposium in Rotterdam on 5 June 2012, Earth Day.  Encouragingly, the event is more than sold out.”

—end of the interview

In the meanwhile the mentioned Zeronauts Symposium at Deloitte’s Dutch headquarter took place on June 5, 2012. I will come back with a longer blog on that fantastic event in due course. So stay tuned.