Archive for February, 2015

Sustainability moves from competitive edge to collaborative tool

Contributed by Ilsa Flanagan

One of the most exciting developments in the sustainability movement is its evolution to encompass a broader vision for how we think about and conduct business. In January 2015, three thought leaders on the Spheres of Influence Virtual Roundtable shared provocative and groundbreaking advances in this space. These advances suggest that organizational sustainability initiatives and partnerships may teach us more than we ever thought possible.

Competitors to Collaborators. Nancy Goldstein, MBA, Founder and Chief Strategist of CompassX Strategy in Chicago, highlighted surprising new partnerships among corporations that tackle sustainability issues, particularly among emerging B Corporations (B Corps). As the owner of a B Corps and the leading spokesperson for B Corps in Chicago, she sees this as evidence of movement toward something bigger than the self-interest of companies, who typically view each other as competitors rather than partners. By collaborating to build a movement, B Corps are using a “business savvy” attitude and sharing socially responsible best practices to solve the world’s biggest social and environmental problems.

Prospective B Corporations must complete a rigorous 200 question assessment on employees, the environment, and community. This assessment, asserts Nancy, “measures what matters” and reflects progress toward better standard practices and accountability for business. The emerging B Corps movement is one in which all stakeholders matter—including the planet.

Nancy gave an example of three different web designers in Chicago, all of whom are B Corps competitors by day, but nonetheless have chosen to work together on addressing environmental issues in their industry. Imagine the disruptive power if this kind of collaboration happened on a national or global scale. What if Coke and Pepsi agreed to transform plastic bottle packaging? Or if Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase worked together to create standards for sustainable finance?

Shaking up the status quo. David Wilcox, MBA, Founder of ReachScale Consultancy in Boston, is all about scale and networks—two levers that when activated will increase the rate at which we can solve societal problems. Because we are over-invested in organizations and underinvested in networks, we’re just running in place when it comes to solving the world’s environmental and social problems. He suggests we reconsider the nonprofit model (which relies on unreliable private and federal funding) and instead scale up social enterprise, which is a more sustainable and stabile model for delivering services and doing business. Yet societies and corporations funnel most of their “do good resources” into NGOs, a sector with limited innovation and collaboration. If we move resources out of those unsustainable models into sustainable ones, we can then reinvest resources as problems are solved, creating a revolving loan fund of sorts for sustainable solutions, a funding source that is self-sustainable.

This shift also presents an important opportunity to target resources for what David calls “purpose-built networks aligned with the purposes of other people.”

Invite everyone into the conversation. Global leadership thought leader Nadine Hack, MBA founder of beCause Consultancy in Switzerland, found that when launching a new initiative or plan, each person involved must have a genuine stake in the process and outcome. They have to care before they can commit. Sustainability leaders, then, need to build in a process by which each and every one of our stakeholders is fully on board. This takes time and patience. Nadine suggests that “as decisions are being made, invite people from all levels of your organization and network to be part of that dialogue—from the mail room to the board room.” To ensure that the process has meaning and depth, there needs to be space for honest and candid feedback. If our co-workers and collaborators feel they are being listened to and valued—even if what they offer is not ultimately incorporated—they will have a sense of ownership, a sense that they were part of creating the new plan or project. As Nadine has experienced, by “constantly exploring how we can genuinely be more honest, we can establish a transparent two-direction conversation.”
These practices of nontraditional collaboration, creating networks, and total engagement are at the heart of the next wave of sustainability initiatives. Sustainability has always been about inclusion, partnerships, promoting trust and transparency. Now, these are becoming key values for any successful organization.

About the author

Ilsa Flanagan is the director of the National Reframing Initiative, mobilizing a network of human service professionals, practitioners and policy makers to create a new narrative for human needs. You can learn more about this and her other projects at Previously, Ilsa founded the Office of Sustainability at the University of Chicago.

February 19, 2015 at 7:31 pm 2 comments

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