Why 2degrees became the hotspot for sustainability professionals

One hard reality of corporate sustainability professionals is working alone. In most companies, sustainability departments — whatever they’re called — consist of armies of one or three or seven hardworking souls. They have tiny budgets and few human resources, but huge mandates and aggressive targets.

And each is, in some way or another, inventing a wheel. They’re crafting an energy-efficiency or carbon-reduction plan, a scheme to reduce solid waste or toxics, a campaign to engage employees or purchase greener products, an effort to amass and analyze data on global operations to create internal or external reports.

That is to say, they’re doing pretty much the same thing their counterparts at thousands of other companies are doing. More than likely, they’re figuring it out on their own. There are no textbooks and relatively few places you can go for expert help on these matters.

The idea of creating a trusted online network of fellow travelers, allowing them to ask questions and share what they’ve learned, has eluded a number of technology and media companies -- including mine. But a U.K. company has found the formula, building the world's largest online community of sustainability professionals “working together to drive efficiency and growth through being more sustainable.”

2degrees, the brainchild of Martin Chilcott and James Tarin, the company’s CEO and COO, respectively, was founded in Oxford, England, in 2008. (The name comes from Chilcott’s belief that there are only 2 degrees of separation “between you and the information you need,” although it has nice overtones of climate science). And while the company’s platform and business model has been tweaked a few times -- what startup’s hasn't? -- its North Star has remained consistent: to create a collaborative community, online and off, of sustainability professionals working to solve problems in their companies and value chains.

Today, that community numbers about 30,000 members from 100 countries, and grows by about 800 new members a month. That would appear to be the lion’s share of professionals working in this field, but 2degrees has bold ambitions to grow much bigger.

Next page: A combination of technology and community-building