Let’s Work Together – Partnership and Sustainability
‘Partnership’ is one of those funny words which far too many people spout with their brains disengaged – particularly when it comes to sustainability. It is automatically assumed to be the right thing to do in all circumstances, when in reality a bad partnership, like a bad personal relationship, can be very harmful to both parties.
I’ve learnt from sometimes bitter experience that it is only worth getting into a partnership with people you trust and, even then, in circumstances when the benefits outweigh the effort required to form and sustain that partnership – which can be substantial. In particular I keep an eye out for ‘partnership junkies’ who seem to want to be involved in everything without bringing anything to the table – especially when there’s some cash around.
Here are some examples when partnership between companies and organisations can deliver benefits that working alone can never do:
- Industrial Symbiosis – one company’s waste becoming another’s raw material – by definition requires partnership and openness and it can deliver immense benefits. In the IS projects I used to run, we diverted 100,000s tonnes of ‘waste’ per annum from landfill into other uses by bringing organisations together and getting them to think the ‘right’ way.
- Collective purchasing can create and strengthen non-existent or weak supply chains for green technology and greener materials/energy by creating massive and stable demand. As I recounted in The Green Executive, the Royal Mail got together with the other European postal services to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on purchasing hydrogen vehicles which they believe accelerated the development of the technology by a decade.
- Standard setting – various sector organisations have worked together to create voluntary standards for everything from supply chain impacts to reporting standards. Other groups have lobbied for higher environmental legislation to penalise those perceived to be not pulling their weight.
- Critical friends – some corporates have gone into partnership with NGOs to give themselves someone who can give them a poke with a sharp stick if they drop their standards. The WWF and Coca-Cola’s partnership on watershed management in developing countries is a great example.
- Mutual learning – my Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group brings together some really big companies to learn from each other through structured discussions. This is particularly effective when there is a big diversity in participants as ideas which are commonplace in one sector might be novel in another. One high street chain was reluctant to join the group because there were no other retailers, but my reaction was “that’s the whole point!”
Like all aspects of corporate sustainability, partnership is highly beneficial when it is done properly for the right reasons, just don’t fall for those who see it as a reason to do nothing. It must lead to clear, mutual benefits for all involved, or you are wasting your time.