How Coca-Cola, McDonald's worked with nonprofits to get greener
Businesses and nonprofits used to have a one-way relationship: Nonprofit asks for donation; business says yes or no.
That relationship has evolved dramatically as the two sides found ways to develop mutually beneficial relationships, and -- more recently -- collaborative partnerships.
In this model, the goal is to create shared value. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the environmental and sustainability arena, where conveying and exemplifying true green value has such a critical impact on the triple bottom line.
Of course, no single nonprofit, business or group can do it alone. Solving problems requires the strengths, perspectives and talents that each type of organization brings to the table. When we developed our Impact Awards program, for example, our primary focus was to brainstorm with our corporate partners to create online collaborations resulting in compelling and beneficial experiences for their brands, their consumers and the participating nonprofits.
So what is true collaboration? Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy [TNC] – a founding EarthShare member charity -- believes when we move past donating dollars and time and bring members of each organization together to solve a problem, that’s when collaboration really happens. The relationship should be equitable, and members of each team should learn from each other’s strengths and join forces with the common goal of effecting measurable change.
“It’s important to figure out how one plus one can equal more than two,” Tercek told Sustainable Industries. “For a good NGO and a good business to come together -- really exciting things can come out of that relationship.”
Collaboration always wins: Coca-Cola & the Nature Conservancy…
Tercek is an outspoken champion of close, committed collaboration between businesses and nonprofits. He left a career on Wall Street to head TNC and strives to forge relationships with businesses with large footprints as the most effective way to bring about significant change in reducing emissions, conserving energy and water, and protecting the environment. To that end, TNC has aligned itself with what might seem to be unlikely allies, including Dow Chemical and Coca-Cola.
In 2011, TNC and Dow announced a five-year project to “help Dow and the business community recognize, value and incorporate nature into global business goals, decisions and strategies.” TNC and Dow plan to assess three pilot sites, or “living laboratories,” and make their findings available to the rest of the business community, so other companies can follow suit.
In 2007, Coca-Cola announced a goal of “replenishing the water equivalent to what is used in finished beverages” by 2020. Water scarcity is a growing problem, and water is the primary ingredient in every can of soda Coca-Cola produces. The company needed help measuring consumption and tracking progress, so TNC formed a team to develop a method of quantifying water consumed and then offset by community watershed projects Coca-Cola sponsored worldwide. Analysis shows Coca-Cola will hit the 42 percent mark by 2013.
…and the World Wildlife Fund
Coca-Cola is so serious about water conservation the company developed a relationship with another EarthShare founding member charity, World Wildlife Fund [WWF], to help it address other water issues. Whereas TNC helped the beverage giant develop a water credit measurement system, the WWF is helping the company focus on conserving “priority river basins around the world and further integrating sustainability initiatives into Coca-Cola system operations worldwide.”
As a result of this collaboration, the WWF/Coca-Cola teams have been able to have positive effects on nearby bodies of water and reduce the amount of water used in the beverage company’s processes. One project improved fishing practices to preserve a 1.7 million acre wetland in Vietnam. Another increased water efficiency in the company’s Downey plant where 50 percent of the water used to go down the drain. Now that number is down to 17 percent.
The lesson: A corporate giant discovered working with nonprofits with expertise in conservation was critical in addressing its water consumption issues.
Environmental Defense Fund: A collaboration pioneer
While collaborative partnerships like these are becoming more common, founding EarthShare member organization Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was at the forefront of the NGO-corporate partnership realm. In 1990, EDF joined with McDonald’s to form “the first partnership between an environmental group and a major company.”
The first order of business was to reduce the fast food company's packaging impact, substituting paper-based items for clamshell Styrofoam sandwich containers. This change, and others made behind the counter, led to the elimination of more than 300 million pounds of packaging waste in the ensuing ten years, and saves the company $6 million per year. As a result, McDonald’s sliced restaurant waste by 30 percent.
Creating impact: bringing brand supporters into the equation
At EarthShare, we have the privilege of seeing collaborative partnerships in action every day between our nonprofit members and the business sector, with much more getting accomplished when they join hands. Partially in response to the needs of our own corporate partners, we implemented our Impact Award opportunity to help them build beneficial connections between their brand goals, their customers and the environmental causes relevant to both.
This works because EarthShare is uniquely positioned to connect its partners with a full spectrum of environmental issues, from land, water and wildlife conservation, to climate change and energy sustainability development, to the building of community parks and playgrounds.
With Garnier in 2011, this led to the discovery that customers of the beauty-products company cared deeply about organizations focused on protecting the planet’s water; the company then conveyed the impact its brand supporters’ participation had via online messaging. Similarly, we worked with green beauty brand EcoTools to empower its community of customers with determining the causes they wanted the company to support through its donation of 1 percent of annual revenue.
Impacts of the EcoTools Gives Back program are then conveyed on an interactive community wall to allow customers to comment and share.
The results: A deeper relationship between the green values inherent in the brands and what their consumers connect with, and more funding to support causes and program work that underscore those issues.
What do all of these collaborative relationships have in common? The fact that the combined efforts of these teams continue to make gains in preserving land, conserving and protecting water, reducing waste, and caring for wildlife and habitat. At EarthShare, we support such equitable partnerships because we see firsthand the strength these collaborations provide in solving our charities' monumental challenges while inspiring employees, leaders and consumers to think sustainably and ethically.