Environmental NGOs have often been perceived as anti-business, anti-growth, tree-loving, bunny-huggers. However, they have evolved to become organized, structured and strategic. Instead of always standing outside with protest signs, NGOs can actually work with companies to help implement their CSR initiatives. This is happening more commonly than previously imagined. Watchdog organizations not only put the pressure on companies to clean up their act but also act as facilitators and advisors towards better policies.
A recent report published by C&E Advisory found that companies and NGOs feel very differently about benefits of non-financial support. They surveyed over 150 leading companies and NGOs – 71 percent of businesses stated that harnessing their competencies and non-financial resources would make much more of an impact on the fulfillment of their NGO partners’ objectives. Many NGOs so see cash as a vital means towards cooperation. However, organizations like Greenpeace, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) etc do not take a single penny from corporate or governmental sources because they maintain that it would compromise the integrity of their campaigns.
Greenpeace has worked with many companies on their environmental policies. Their recent campaign against Mattel resulted in the company pledging to use sustainable sources for packaging. They have also led several campaigns against John West, McDonald’s and other companies. They have also run successful campaigns against Unilever, Nestle, Apple and most recently against major clothing brands like Nike.
In 2010, EDF worked with McDonald’s to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging. There was a wide backlash against the organization and they were accused of selling out. Gwen Ruta, who oversees their corporate partnerships said, ”At the time, it was heresy to say that companies and NGOs could work together; now it is dogma, at least for the Fortune 500.” Similarly WWF is working with Coco-Cola to reduce pollution in China’s Yangstze River.
More recently, Rainforest Alliance worked with Chiquita Brands, to grow bananas in a more environmentally friendly manner. This lead to a strategic CSR partnership that meets the NGO’s objectives for conservation of biodiversity. It also helps the company to become more sustainable in its operations. The examples of corporate-NGO partnerships are numerous.
NGOs have the unique position of being in touch with consumers, activists and business leaders giving them a perspective on situations that is rare. They are also consistently thought of as trust-worthy and reliable. The top three organizations – Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth collectively have about 150 years of campaigning experience under their belt and are among the most respected environmental authorities. They began spreading awareness even before sustainability became mainstream for businesses. In several instances they offer companies insights into their research and also help in tailoring better CSR policies that ensures sustainability. Their wealth of knowledge therefore, should not be taken lightly as they are able to provide holistic views on many current sustainability trends.
NGOs can help companies in many issues ranging from sustainable agriculture, fishing, packaging, supply chain management, labour issues, renewable energy, forest resources, health & safety etc. NGOs also tend to be transparent about their funding which gives them more credibility. NGOs themselves are global brands in their own right and provide the multidisciplinary arsenal that many companies lack in order to tackle socio-environmental problems.