Ford, Whirlpool join growing list of cross-sector collaborations

Ford, Whirlpool join growing list of cross-sector collaborations

It's a growing trend. Rival corporations and companies that are from different sectors are crossing over and joining together to collectively help the environment.

From automobile companies to package transportation businesses, many are taking the big sustainability plunge together, focusing on a range of issues like energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction.

Although they may not be reinventing the wheel, big corporations are hoping that their sheer bulk will push through changes at many levels of business operations. Companies are also finding benefits beyond sustainability when they see cost savings in their actions.

A recent report by Network of Business Sustainability found that collaboration is one of the top global challenges for business leaders.

The report called for businesses to develop deeper sustainability goals which include working with competitors and different industry sectors.

"The period of low-hanging sustainability fruit is over," it states.

Now is the time for corporations to step up tackle the tough issues, said Anthea Rowe, manager of content development.

"We're just at a point now where companies need to work together in order to come up with solutions to really complex environmental issues," Rowe said.

But effective external collaboration is not an easy process. Different codes, different businesses speak, and different goals are just a few areas that can always trip up the best intentions.

"There are a lot of layers," Rowe said. "Companies have to figure out common goals and create a good communication system just to start the (partnership) process."

The latest big partnership announcement comes from Ford, Whirlpool and Eaton teaming up with SunPower for a new project, MyEnergi Lifestyle, which focuses on energy efficiency and cost savings.

The collective creates a synergized platform that allows for sharing and support across every brand. Infineon and Nest Labs are also a part of the partnership.

For consumers, savings will come but only if the right "smart" tools are in place. Take solar panels, electric vehicles and more efficient washers, for example. They're all items that must be possessed by consumers before there is a significant energy or financial savings.

These smart items can regulate energy use, conserve energy and create cleaner energy products.

"We have never gotten together before because we're from different industries, said Mike Tinskey of Ford (NYSE: F).  "But after (working together) we began understanding all of the similarities we have."

Other recently announced collaborations include the United States Postal Service and UPS, and the RecycleBank partnership with competitor Waste Management.

Some of the partnerships have created strange bedfellows.

"It's a bit unusual when you think about Ford and refrigerators," said Warwick Sterling, global director of energy and sustainability for Whirlpool (NYSE: WHR).