By Cindy Mehallow
“Do companies compete over CSR?” asked Tim Mohin, corporate responsibility Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), as he addressed a session at the recent Responsible Business Summit sponsored by Ethical Corporation. When a only a few conference participants ventured a tenative “yes,” Mohin supplied the answer: “They sure do!”
Companies vie for top billing on Newsweek’s 2010 Green Rankings, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and a host of other green rankings. High scores can pay off with enhanced reputation, attention from investors, and interest from values-driven prospective employees.
Despite this competition, Mohin urged meeting participants to consider the value of “collaboratition,” a term he coined to describe a judicious blend of collaboration and competition among industry sector peers. As a semiconductor design innovator, AMD has good reason to be wary of its high tech rivals, but that didn’t stop Mohin from endorsing the value of teaming with industry peers and partners to advance sustainability initiatives and even benefit the bottom line.
Mohin began by citing the creation of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC)which he helped launch when he was at Intel. With the assistance of Business for Social Responsibility, Intel and other leading information communication technology companies worked through the EICC to craft an industry Code of Conduct for global electronics supply chains to improve working and environmental conditions. The group then went on to develop an array of tools for risk-assessment, self-assessment, and corrective plans.
The industry group has tackled also issues such as conflict minerals through its Conflict-Free Smelter (CFS) program, a voluntary program in which an independent third party assesses a smelter’s procurement activities and determines if the smelter demonstrated that all the materials they processed originated from conflict-free sources. In a expansion of this collaboration, EICC joined with the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) earlier this year to update the Conflict-Free Smelter (CFS) protocol relating to smelter due diligence requirements.
“Through this program, conflict minerals can now be traced across the entire supply chain from smelter to cellphone,” explained Mohin. “Suppliers, customers and competitors are all partnering on this issue.”
Mohin went on to offer guidance for deciding when to collaborate and when to compete. Collaboration works best when:
- The objective cannot be accomplished alone. Think managing conflict minerals.
- There are mutual efficiency and cost benefits. Think supplier responsibility.
- Sponsored partnerships and cause-related marketing, such as Product Red and breast cancer pink
- Shared common goals such as influencing government regulations.
However, it’s time to compete when your company is pursuing different goals, such as its own energy efficiency, or conducting brand-linked marketing.
Mohin offers this advice for getting the most out of joining industry associations and coalitions. Get involved; give credit to the coalition; sign a non-disclosure agreement; seek advice from anti-trust attorneys; be transparent when you can and cannot collaborate.
“Think about collaborating with your competition, but with boundaries,” recommended Mohin.
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