Sharing Training Materials: A Good Idea, But Will Companies Participate?

By Jim Jubelirer, an independent management consultant working with EDF to help speed the transition to a sustainable economy.

Can we accelerate the adoption of sustainable behaviors and products in business by sharing training materials? That is the question we asked a group of subject-matter experts at a meeting in EDF’s DC office on July 20, 2010.

As described in my earlier post, the idea is that companies benefit from each others' investment in training materials via sharing the materials in an “open source” mode – ideally, materials would be licensed for shared use by their creator, used and improved by others, and re-contributed to a public archive. The Hewlett Foundation, in particular, has promoted this approach in academia, calling it "open education resources" or OER.

Potential contributors would be:

  • Fortune 1000 companies that already have sustainability initiatives underway and have provided formal training (classroom, video-based, online, etc.) to employees or other stakeholders (e.g., suppliers, customers, etc)
  • Consulting firms providing training materials related to their products and services
  • Non-profits developing materials to address their specific topics of importance
  • Government agencies at the federal, state, or local levels
  • Universities developing course materials appropriate to executives and business students.

For this initiative, we are focusing on training materials, as opposed to internal or external communications, research, or marketing materials.

We envision the initial users to come from business, academia, government, consulting, etc. In addition, we imagine an "eco-system" of professional services might develop around the content as consultants and service-providers take advantage of high-quality materials to market or improve their offerings. Our goal is to generate as much interest as possible – we hope to create active participation from many users.

What did we talk about?

We had a nice mix of people participate representing organizations including Green Order, Sodexo, Creative Commons, NEEF, ICS, Spoonflower, and Genofish, as well as EDF.

We learned more about Creative Commons, a nonprofit providing free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, and use the material commercially.

Debbie Sliter of National Environmental Education Foundation presented findings from “The Business Case for Environmental and Sustainability Employee Education” a survey of 1300 professionals about engagement and education. The report provides examples from around the world that teaching employees to conserve, recycle, improve efficiency and reduce waste, among other actions, have benefits for employees, companies and communities.

Much of the discussion focused on “incentives” for participating – why would companies contribute their materials to be shared? Possible motivations include:

  • Being recognized as a leader
  • Creating “brownie points” for individuals within companies (e.g., tying to professional development credentials or company certification ratings)
  • Quid pro quo – contribute in order to receive/use materials
  • Supplier/partner network – potential to incent suppliers or customers in exchange for other value
  • Leveraging existing partnerships and networks that have already created public materials

Now is the time

One of the clear messages we got is that this project is forming at a good moment in time. The need for effective solutions to pressing sustainability problems has never been greater. Many companies recognize they can’t do it alone and are more receptive to partnering with others to accomplish specific outcomes. There are many "communities of practice" across all sectors and geographies seeking innovative, proven, cost-effective solutions to the challenges their organizations face. This initiative is positioned to capitalize on all of these trends.

Responses to this project idea were encouraging enough that we will continue the exploration. We will reach out to more experts to discuss ongoing initiatives, opportunities, and possibilities for partnership. To allow people to continue engagement in the discussion we will host it on a public Google Group (participants must register to contribute but anyone can read). Please join in!