Today’s environmental challenges are bigger, thornier and more interconnected than ever. Meeting these challenges will require more effective collaborations among businesses, governments and NGOs to discover and deliver solutions.
That’s why it was so encouraging to see the focus on partnerships between these sectors to scale up sustainability at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's 2014 Accelerating Sustainability Forum.
I participated in a panel entitled “Sustainability and the Return on Collaboration” with Eunice Heath, Dow Chemical’s global director for sustainability, Ann Klee, GE’s vice president of environment, health and safety, and Monique Oxender, Keurig Green Mountain’s senior director for sustainability. Chris Guenther of SustainAbility, the panel’s moderator, asked us to share our perspectives on collaboration and how they have evolved over time.
During the panel, I spoke about EDF’s more than two decades of experience working with leading companies to unlock environmental benefits, starting with our first corporate partnership with McDonalds to identify opportunities to cut waste and save money. That approach—identifying opportunities that deliver both environmental benefits and business value—has characterized our other corporate collaborations, including those with FedEx, Walmart, and AT&T.
For example, our work with AT&T has focused on identifying ways to cool their buildings more efficiently, saving both water and energy. Based on our work together, AT&T has publicly committed to saving 150 million gallons of water and 400 million kilowatt hours of electricity from building cooling each year by 2015.
Increasingly, companies like AT&T are also recognizing the influence collaborations like these can have on environmental performance beyond their own walls and operations:
- AT&T is using its influence and resources to drive further water and energy reductions, including by encouraging its suppliers to reduce their water use.
- AT&T and EDF worked together to develop a set of tools to help other organizations save water and energy—and they are available for free online for anyone to download and use.
- In addition, we’ve pooled resources to spur the adoption of these tools in five water-stressed cities—Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles and Phoenix—to scale up additional water savings in areas where they’re vitally needed.
Guenther noted that while collaboration is needed to develop environmental solutions that can overcome industry and competitive boundaries, these efforts can also be challenging. An audience member took that opportunity to ask the panel what we thought were the key elements for successful partnerships:
- Take the time to build relationships and understand your partner’s concerns.
- It’s important to understand the business case for making environmental improvements. Often, the business case is based on cost reductions, but other compelling arguments include risk management, the creation of new business opportunities, or brand/reputational benefits.
- Be clear on goals and objectives of a partnership to avoid any confusion or disappointment among both parties.
While collaborations to realize environmental benefits among companies and NGOs can change over time and require care and attention, they hold the potential to address problems affecting not only a single company, but an entire industry.