5 Benefits of Collaboration for Sustainable Brand Builders

Sustainable life media logo2 Dave Rochlin, CEO of ClimatePath, posts on the benefits of collaborating with other businesses and organizations when developing green brands. Benefits include a shorter learning curve, greater credibility, lower costs and potential solutions for larger problems. ecoAmerica's own programs are built around a strong partnership model that allows each organization/company to benefit and participate.

Posted Nov. 09
By Dave Rochlin, Sustainable Life Media

Collaboration can not only further your internal sustainability
efforts, but push entire industries toward a more sustainable future.
For the sake of our businesses, our customers and the environment, none
of us need to go it alone.

A few weeks ago, ClimatePath helped organize and facilitate a
sustainability 'unconference' for brewers at the Great American Beer
Festival. While there have been a lot of individual sustainability
efforts by brewers in the areas of carbon reduction, organic sourcing,
water use and energy efficiency, there has not been a forum to share
information, new ideas and best practices. The group–representing over
20 beer brands–was incredibly enthusiastic, and a variety of great
ideas were shared. They chose to focus on the issues of water, waste,
energy and stakeholder engagement, and we discussed everything from
ambient cooling to lautering techniques. Each brewer came away with a
few new ideas to improve their overall footprint. The group also
identified several potential industry wide sustainability initiatives
to reduce waste, and agreed to integrate more sustainability focus into
future Brewer's Association activities.

Craft brewers are an unusually collegial and collaborative bunch,
but a collaborative mindset on sustainability can be equally rewarding
and productive for any industry. There has been plenty of research
demonstrating that mainstream consumers are becoming more engaged and
concerned about sustainable products and practices. Yet in most cases,
they expect businesses to lead, and don't expect to pay a premium for
sustainable solutions. Furthermore, most are skeptical about business'
sustainability claims. Approaching sustainability in an open,
cooperative, and transparent manner can help accelerate your
sustainability initiatives, while navigating the challenges of bringing
more sustainable products to market. Here are five key benefits of
engaging collaboratively on the sustainability path.

1. Sincerity

Sincerity is a requisite for sustainability pursuits. With over 70%
of consumers questioning the sincerity of CSR/sustainability claims
(NMI), it is crucial to demonstrate both transparency and a true
commitment. Information sharing is a powerful way to do this. New
Belgium and Bison Breweries have put their complete lifecycle based
carbon footprinting studies on line, as did P&G for their Ariel
detergent brand in France. Coca Cola recently shared their learnings on
the emerging issue of water footprinting. Disseminating this type of
information speeds the industry's learning curve, creates better
solutions, and strengthens the positions of these brands as
sustainability leaders. Consumers also value this transparency, and see
it as a sign of genuine commitment

2. Lower Cost

Quite a bit of the necessary groundwork for sustainable innovation
and practices, from understanding and changing consumer behavior to
measuring impact, can be leveraged broadly across industries. In
contrast, developing proprietary studies and toolsets can be expensive
and time consuming. The Environmental Defense Fund's paper calculator,
developed by a peer reviewed task force, is an excellent example of how
a collaboratively developed and shared tool has had a positive impact
and reduced costs. Relying on the common methodology and toolset
provided by the calculator, firms from Starbucks to Dell have been able
to inexpensively identify and quantify the impact of internal paper
saving initiatives, while (through Staples and Office Max), thousands
of small businesses can use the calculator to identify opportunities to
green their operations. At ClimatePath, we use it for the packaging
portion of our LCA based footprinting studies, lowering the cost for
our clients and improving our precision.

3. Clear Signals

Herding behavior can be powerful, and many firms will take a "wait
and see" attitude on sustainability when it requires structural change
or investment. Even Wal-Mart's efforts to drive greater vendor
sustainability were initially met with skepticism and inaction. But by
encouraging academia, NGOs, and key suppliers to participate in a
collaborative process, they are now facilitating – sector by sector –
emerging best practices, and unambiguous claims and metrics.

4. Category Integrity

No industry is perfect, and as awareness and attention around
sustainability grows, proactively addressing systemic issues is an
absolute necessity. For chocolate makers, for example, environmental
and child labor issues have led to consumer activism and legislative
action. Through the World Cocoa Foundation, suppliers, producers, and
manufacturers have been able to work together to address these systemic
issues. Whether your focus is textiles, household cleaners, bottled
water, software, or something else, a collaborative approach can make
your industry greener and more ethical, while pre-empting potential
criticism.

5. Big Solutions

Many underlying sustainability issues require sea change sized
shifts to address. But working together, firms can address these
uber-issues. The P&G Ariel study revealed that hot water is the top
source of energy use in washing clothes. Working with the Energy Saving
Trust, P&G proved that consumers in the UK can be convinced to wash
clothes at 30 (c). Imagine an industry wide effort here in the US…a
universal switch to cold water could reduce CO2 emissions by 30 million
tons per year. In the case of the World Cocoa Foundation, there's
proven strength in numbers. The Gates Foundation and the industry have
pooled together $40 Million dollars, which will be used to provide
technical assistance for 200,000 cocoa farmers in West Africa.

As Lee Scott said, "We see the need for sustainable business
practices as increasingly urgent…(sharing best practices) has the
potential to do the right thing not only for our business and for our
suppliers, but also for our customers and the environment." The time
for a 'black box approach' has past, and none of us needs to go it
alone.

If you have any examples of successful sustainability collaboration efforts, we'd love to hear about them. Share them here!

Next time: Tools and techniques for effective collaboration.


Dave Rochlin is the CEO of ClimatePath, an organization dedicated to
providing "open source" solutions for firms looking to measure, reduce,
verify and offset their carbon footprint, as well as further engage
their customer base. A former CPG and technology executive, he has also
been active in fair trade, and writes, speaks, and lectures frequently
on corporate social responsibility, innovation, and sustainable
business design. More information on ClimatePath is on line atwww.climatepath.org

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