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Two Steps Forward

From water to carbon, 5 new sustainable business collaborations

All together now.

Business collaboration


For decades, collaborations and partnerships have been a fundamental part of the sustainable business toolkit, enabling companies to do together what none of them can easily do alone.

Over the years, those collaborations seem to have grown in lockstep with the profession of sustainability itself. Scores of such partnerships — some well-known, others flying under the radar — focus on any number of areas, from key commodities (Marine Stewardship Council, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Textile Exchange, Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance) to sectors (Fashion for Good, Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Climate Collaborative, Green Grid) to geographically specific initiatives (Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, Sustainable Silicon Valley, Businesses for the [Chesapeake] Bay).

Some stand alone, such as The Sustainable Consortium, working on supply-chain issues across sectors and borders.

While there can be strength in numbers, collaborations also can become a target for activists, who may see companies’ participation as a fig leaf for broader, more impactful commitments and actions.

Then there are those hosted by NGOs, such as BSR, which convenes more than a score of industry collaborations covering a stunning range of topics: maritime cargo; human trafficking; employee healthcare; restaurants; air freight; even Southeast Asian reptile conservation. Another is the World Resources Institute (WRI), whose partnerships generally support the Sustainable Development Goals (although the organization doesn’t seem to have a central repository on its website listing its many business collaborations). And the United Nations, whose business partnerships seem to be having a growing impact.

Each collaboration operates slightly differently, some more formally than others, and each has its own ambitions, large or small. Some of them include NGO, academic and other non-industry members; others are all-business.

Two-edged sword

For sustainability professionals, industry collaborations can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, they bring the power of aggregation, pooling knowledge, influence and buying power. They also can provide political cover to companies facing issues of particular sensitivity to activists, regulators or communities.

On the other hand, membership has its responsibilities, requiring a certain amount of precious time and resources — attending meetings, reading and responding to documents, reporting back to internal audiences and any of a number of other activities. Such overhead can limit the number of collaborations in which a company can participate, as well as the level of engagement with each. I’ve heard more than a few sustainability executives complain about being "partnershipped out."

And while there can be strength in numbers, collaborations also can become a target for activists, who may see companies’ participation as a fig leaf for broader, more impactful commitments and actions. That’s led some companies to curtail their membership and involvement.

Such hindrances notwithstanding, sustainable business collaborations seem to have retained their allure. And new ones crop up all the time, as recent developments have shown.

Here are five recent collaborations worth knowing about:

Transform to Net Zero: Launched in July and hosted by BSR, this group of companies is dedicated to sharing resources, tactics and strategies aimed at accelerating the business community's transition to net-zero. As we recently reported: "The group, which expects to complete its work by 2025, aims to encourage businesses around the world to adopt science-based climate targets that address the environmental impact of their full value chains, sometimes known as Scope 3 emissions. They also have committed to share information on investing in carbon-reduction technologies and to collectively push for public policies that accelerate the net zero transition." Founding members include Microsoft, Danone, Nike, Unilever, Starbucks and Mercedes-Benz.

Water Resilience Coalition: Launched in March and hosted by the Pacific Institute, WRC aims to preserve the world’s freshwater resources through collective action in water-stressed basins and ambitious, quantifiable commitments. The three-part goals focus on achieving a measurable and net-positive impact in water-stressed basins; developing and implementing strategies to support water resilience practices across value chains; and "raising the global ambition of water resilience through public and corporate outreach." Its founding members include AB InBev, Cargill, Diageo, Dow Inc., Ecolab, Gap Inc., Microsoft and PVH Corp.

Industrial Innovation Initiative: Launched in July by WRI and the Great Plains Institute, focus on policies "fostering recovery from COVID-19 through federal investments that spur economic activity and create and maintain jobs in the near term, while putting American industry on a longer-term path to deep emissions reductions, high-wage jobs, technology leadership and economic competitiveness," according to Brad Crabtree, vice president for carbon management at the Great Plains Institute. The group has devised a set of recommendations aimed at supporting industry and American workers while incentivizing investment in low-carbon technologies, processes, products and markets within the industrial sector.

Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials: This was created last fall, launched by a group of primarily European banks, although its first U.S. signatories were announced last month, when Citibank, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley pledged to measure and disclose the impact their lending decisions have on climate change. The partnership’s mission is to develop a global carbon accounting standard and increase the number of financial institutions applying this standard to over 100 institutions globally, and ultimately to make carbon accounting common practice within the financial sector.

Center for Climate-Aligned Finance: This was created last month by the Rocky Mountain Institute, with founding partners Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. It aims to help the financial sector "transition the global economy towards a net-zero carbon future” and billing itself as “the gold standard for financial sector climate action." Among other things, the group plans to convene leaders from carbon-intensive industries, their customers and financial institutions to establish "climate alignment agreements."

Note that most of these were launched, or at least accelerated, in the past five months, several in July alone, a seemingly fertile time for collaboration during an otherwise bleak period. Perhaps all this time along has created an even greater longing for connection.

What’s your favorite collaboration? Are any of them accelerating change in your organization? I’d love to hear about them.

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