Learning to Dance: Discussing Ways to Improve Partnerships for Sustainability

This is a guest post by Kevin Moss, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at BT Americas.

"When Giants Learn To Dance" was the title of Rosabeth Moss Kanter's classic book about how corporations can be both giants and innovators. Guy Clark's musical advice is "You got to dance like nobody's watching." But what if you are a large corporation, your dance is sustainability, and everyone is your dance partner who wants you to dance to their tune – your employees, your shareholders, customers and neighbors? This is the topic I'd like us to discuss during the Solutions Labs 2010.

Last year I attended the DC Unconference, organized by Environmental Defense Fund, Ashoka and the Green Innovation in Business Network as part of a series of conference-type events touring across the country, bringing leading thinkers from business, academia and organizations together to provide them with the opportunity to explore the next generation of business sustainability.  The conference topic is driving green innovation in business.  An ‘unconference’ is different from a traditional conference in that the agenda is created by participants at the beginning of the day. Anyone can bid to run a session as long as people are interested in attending it and most sessions are moderated discussions rather than presentations. As you can imagine, it is pretty free form and I found that invigorating.

This year the series has been renamed Solutions Labs 2010 and is running in 10 locations across the country. These conferences are a great opportunity for corporate responsibility practitioners to get fresh perspective by gaining input from a broad range of stakeholders outside of their corporation.

I am interested in using this opportunity presented by the Solutions Labs to explore the relationship between corporations and civil society on sustainability – the sustainability dance. Are those relationships well positioned to deliver sustainable solutions and lasting behavior? We might explore, for example, the contrasting relationships between the company and the employee, between the shareholder and the customer. What changes would we like to see in the corporations themselves and in the relationships between the corporations and the stakeholder in order to accelerate positive change?

This year, I will be running a session in Washington, DC on May 27th and I am hoping to encourage attendees at different events across the country to also lead and attend sessions on this tricky dance, and to then record and post the findings. It will be valuable to build on each-other’s conclusions, identify commonalities and contrasts and see if we can find correlations.

Are you attending a Solutions Lab in your city? Would you be interested in leading a session on these topics, collaborating in posting and comparing the outcomes?  Leave a comment below and include your name and location if you would like to lead or help with a session,   or add your name to the Green Innovation in Business Wiki. The potential for diversity of approaches promises to be one of the most valuable and exciting aspects of the event series but for those who want it, we will prepare some questions to help leaders frame the discussion.

For full details on the series and information on how to register for the Solutions Labs 2010, go to edf.org/gibn (and yes that is a photo of me, from last year’s event. Don't worry, I'm not dancing!)

This content is cross-posted on Greenbiz.com.


  • Tien Peng | 7 years ago

    Hello, I will be attending the Seattle session of Solutions Lab in August and would be interested in leading a session. I have been active in sustainable solutions in both the corporate and non-profit development world and see great potential in getting them to dance together. Give me a shout!

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