Staples, for instance, not only greened its own huge supply chain, establishing a sustainable paper purchasing policy, cutting energy use and emissions from its own facilities and fleets, etc. It also used its leverage to work with the companies that supply the hundreds of thousands of SKUs it sells to green their supply chains, too.
To boost a cocoa supply lagging increasingly behind demand, chocolate giant Blommer worked concertedly with small farmers to improve yields on their existing plots, helping lift them out of poverty while preventing more land clearing. Nesspresso also collaborated with small coffee farmers in Colombia to build a collective coffee mill, enabling farmers to outsource processing, produce superior quality coffee, earn higher premiums and shorten their workday from 16 or 17 hours to 11 or 12. It also saved energy, water and effluent, and lowered costs for each farm to achieve sustainability certification.
The Peruvian Amazon tourism company Rainforest Expeditions partnered with a native community to build a sustainable certified ecotourism resort that shares dividends -- 60 percent for the community and 40 percent for the company. They could have bought neighboring land, built their own facility and kept all the money, but by working with the community, they incentivized reduced hunting and destructive land use, preserving habitat, wildlife, and the reason why tourists visit. When goldmining concessions exploded and degraded the surrounding lands, this preserved ecosystem became what Rainforest Expedition's Kurt Holle called "a vaccine against the virus."
Pursuing sustainability also increasingly connects consumers. Collaborative consumption expert Roo Rogers pointed out that technology-mediated consumer networks have punctured the old model where consumers were atomized and encumbered by owning their own individual everything, which was bound to need replacing and get thrown out.
Today, with Zipcar and Airbnb, we're eager to share car keys, even house keys. EBay catalyzed resale and reuse of all kinds of things, and is now recognized as one of the great green markets of our time. There are now thousands of such examples, with a billion dollars of venture capital behind them.
"The 20th century was about hyperconsumption," Rogers told the New York meeting. "The 21st century will be about collaborative consumption."
You can access Roger's presentation here, and read more about award-winning uncommon collaborators here. They are inspiring reminders that sustainability isn't found in silos, and that the barriers between and among big companies, small producers, and consumers are rapidly dissolving in favor of more interconnected and sustainable ways of doing business.
Image courtesy of Rainforest Alliance.