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Could open source mapping help spur global sustainability?

A new effort to chart global sustainability commitments in one place is under way, with a goal of helping to convene would-be partners while reducing overlap.

This article originally appeared at 2degrees.

Collaboration is a crucial element for sustainability success in the future — this is what we hear all the time.

You only need to take a look at the first C2C certification for a beverage can, the fruit of Rexam and Carlsberg collaborative labor, read the MITSloan Management Review, which devotes its sixth consecutive research project to the issue, or note how giants such as Unilever regularly participate in collaborative initiatives. And it’s no surprise — we know that teaming up with others will help mitigate risk, support long-term impact and stability.

Collaboration is essential for helping us effectively tackle our sustainability challenges, and it also reduces the amount of duplication. It’s actually a little crazy. Did you know that several organizations are trying to achieve the same objectives, often very near to each other geographically, but who don’t know that they are both tackling the same challenges?

Take cotton. Numerous organizations steward global standards: the Better Cotton Initiative; the Global Organic Textile Standard; the Textile Exchange; and Fairtrade, to name just a few. Companies that want to adhere to more sustainable cotton often meet with many of these organizations to decide what the best fit is. That means wasting time and resources, whilst increasing the risks involved in your operations.

Whether it’s more sustainable cotton you’re after, or any one of the millions of collaborative projects you could initiate, then you’ll want to know who are the best partners to have.

Who has the same objectives as your organization? Who is operating in the same areas? Who is already one year further down the line on the same path you are taking, and can give you some advice?

We all know that a wealth of sustainability focused initiatives are happening across the world, both nonprofit and commercial organizations in multiple sectors. Yet the speed at which things happen, and the global scale of many initiatives, makes it difficult and time consuming to actually find these potential collaboration opportunities and to identify just who the right partners are to share your efforts and work with.

The partnerships you do know about may be only the ones that have a bloated marketing budget behind them. For every one of those, hundreds of more awesome collaborations may be going on quietly behind the scenes.

Mapping sustainability

So how do you find out who’s doing what, and where they're doing it?

With this question in mind, 2degrees has created The Global Collaboration Map — a virtual map that literally pinpoints all the sustainable business achievements and priorities of major corporates, NGOs and consultants alike.

By using the map, you will know at a glance where the necessary resources and the know-how are for your business and supply chain, then be able to identify key collaboration projects. You also can add your own projects and objectives to share with others what you’re working on.

It aims to make collaboration easier, more valuable and, most important, the norm. It’s also free to participate in.

The map will provide a live, crowd-sourced and interactive home for the world’s leading sustainable business achievements and priorities and will become a critical tool for those looking to manage social and environmental risk within their business and across their supply chain. We’ve got 300 case studies on the map so far, and this is growing every week.

So what does this look like in practice?

Consider water and tea in Kenya. Tea2030, a cross-industry project initiated by Forum for the Future, is active in the country, setting collaborative innovation platforms and implementation plans for sustainable market mechanisms, sustainable landscapes and agriculture and connecting consumers.

Just 90km down the road (that’s 1.5 hours by car) in Lake Naivasha, WWF-UK is implementing water stewardship with small-scale farmers and fishers. Another 2.5 hours’ drive will get you to Kiriko, where ClimateCare is working on Safe Water in the Fairtrade Tea Supply Chain. This project is expected to provide safe water to 14,000 people in Kericho and cut over 6,000 tonnes of CO2.

They are really close and collaboration should really be happening. Now that the three are aware of how close they are in proximity and priorities, we hope they will agree.

We’re not alone in thinking that collaboration is the way forward.

“We think the 2degrees Global Collaboration Map is a great opportunity for collaboration and to showcase what companies in this space are doing,” noted a statement by project sponsor Thinkstep (formerly PE International).

A statement by Nespresso, another major partner, noted the marketing value of highlighting corporate sustainability initiatives, such as a pilot retirement fund established with Fairtrade International, the Colombian Ministry of Labour and the Aguadas Coffee Growers Cooperative. The aim is to "secure farmer welfare and ensure that coffee farming remains viable for future generations."

Finally, when it comes to nonprofits, a comprehensive mapping tool could  help "identify new ways to cooperate," said Kate Holmes, corporate partnerships team leader at WaterAid — another organization working with 2degrees.

Anyone can put their mark on the map, and it officially will be launched at the end of the month in a free web clinic. Nespresso and WaterAid will be on hand in a 30-minute session armed with insightful perspectives on practical collaboration.

They say a problem shared is a problem halved. If corporates and NGOs alike really got on board with idea, perhaps we could make a tangible difference in sustainable business.

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