Building Sustainable Partnerships Between Business and Non-Profits

By Leslie Back

Success is a product of cooperation. Opportunity lies in networking, communication, interaction and exchange; isolation and hyper-individualism accomplish little. Fortunately, every day there are more and more proud examples of cooperative efforts made in the name of environment & conservation. Bridges are going up, connecting groups that once were divided by philosophical differences, lifestyle choices and their shoes.

The greatest cooperative efforts in recent years have been between business and non-profit sectors. Grassroots environmental organizations, traditionally stereotyped as cargo pants-wearing, angry protests with Birkenstocks, have found friendly allies in corporate execs clad in pinstriped suits and Italian leather shoes. Okay, I am joking about the shoes, but the connections are real. And it is high time.

In his recent book Strategy for Sustainability, Adam Werbach writes at length about the importance of networking in order to meet our environmental and social responsibility goals. Rightly put, no single community, group, business, or nation can meet or solve our challenges alone. Cooperation must rule the day. Werbach himself is a good example of this interconnection. Having left the Sierra Club after several years, he formed his own group, Act Now, to connect with the very groups he once protested. Today, as a strategy consultant for Saatchi and Saatchi S, some of those same groups are his clients, clients who no doubt benefit from his years of experience as a grassroots organizer. I wonder if he wears Birkenstocks to the meetings?

Businesses have always allied with non-profits for fundraisers and public donations, for the betterment of the business and the charity. A great example of such a partnership is the National Parks Project through Nature Valley (a General Mills Company). Funds raised go to serve the national parks, particularly through cooperation with the National Parks Conservation Association.

But increasingly today we also see the non-profits guiding the businesses, aiding them with their efforts to be green and lean. For instance, the World Wildlife Fund is now actively involved in training business executives for sustainability through its Sustainability Training Program. And, of course, no one seems to be as good at cooperation as the Environmental Defense Fund. Their comprehensive Innovation Exchange guides businesses on where and how to help their businesses and the planet. On second thought, Ceres might give EDF a run for their money. Founded in 1989, the group’s sole mission is to integrate sustainability into capital markets for the betterment of all. Ceres realized, perhaps years before others, that true sustainability would require the effort and cooperation of private and public business and that capitalism and environmentalism are not mutually exclusive.

And of course, not to be overlooked, are the professional and development organizations that organize to support good businesses and the profession of sustainability. There are too many to name here but who can overlook the awesome B Corporation, officially recognized by 2 of 50 states, whereby businesses can become certified as change agents, using the power of business for greater social and environmental good. And there are groups such as ISSP, International Society of Sustainability Professionals, which allows not only for professional development among sustainability professionals, but networking and sharing of best practices as well.

The increasing interaction between business and non-profit, with a mutual interest in a greener and more sustainable world, gives reason for hope and excitement. A bridge has been built and is becoming stronger. Ideas are being shared and efforts multiplied through cooperative efforts. Now, if we can just bridge that little aisle in Congress? If Greenpeace and McDonald’s can work together surely there is hope for Democrats and the Republicans!

***

Leslie is a first-year Sustainable MBA student at Green Mountain College. Study interests include environmental conservation, social responsibility and the power of corporate and non-profit partnerships to bring about positive change. Other areas of interest include social media in sustainable marketing and public policy. She holds an MA in Organizational Management and a BS in Leisure Management. On the rare occasions when she is not studying, she enjoys writing, reading, running, nature walks and yoga.  She hopes to use her skills, talents and education to make a positive impact with an environmentally and socially conscious organization.

 

Leslie is a Sustainable MBA student at Green Mountain College. Study interests include sustainability, social responsibility and the power of corporate and non-profit partnerships to bring about positive change. Other areas of interest include social media, fundraising and public policy. She holds a Certificate in Nonprofit Management and is certified in the Global Reporting initiative for Sustainability Reporting. Additionally, she holds an MA in Organizational Management and a BS in Leisure Management. On the rare occasions when she is not studying, she enjoys writing, reading, running, nature walks and yoga. She hopes to use her skills, talents and education to make a positive impact with an environmentally and socially conscious organization. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.