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Moving from Stakeholder Engagement to True Collaboration

The following post is a part of TriplePundit's coverage of the 2011 Opportunity Green Conference in Los Angeles, California. To read all the posts in the series, click here.

For many companies, stakeholder engagement is no longer looked at as just a way to just placate stakeholders or balance their competing interests. Stakeholder engagement work has evolved into a core strategic tool for sustainability practitioners trying to make progress on a variety of issues for their organizations. By collaborating with NGOs, governments, customers, and competitors, companies can address sustainability challenges on a larger scale and in a more systemic way. This idea was the topic of “New Art of Collaboration," a panel discussion at Opportunity Green 2011. The panel included Tensie Whelan of the Rainforest Alliance, Lewis Fix of Domtar, and Sue Igoe of RecycleBank. The panelists each gave their perspective on the importance of collaboration and discussed the successes they’ve been able to achieve by working with partners outside their organizations.

According to Whelan, “the art of collaboration is no longer a nice to have. It’s a must have.” The urgency and scale of the sustainability issues that we are confronting as a society are such that no one company, NGO, or country can address them alone. When organizations operate in an isolated, siloed fashion, their efforts often aren’t enough to address large-scale problems. Collaboration with all players involved in a specific issue provides a breadth of perspective and an ability to tackle an issue from multiple angles, allowing organizations to address problems at a more systemic level. The Rainforest Alliance is using this approach to address the challenge of sustainable sourcing in many different industries including forestry and agriculture. Their approach is to bring stakeholders together from all along the supply chain to engage in a pragmatic process that involves developing best practices, clear benchmarks, and guidelines for sustainable production that can be used all across the world.

Domtar, which calls itself “The Sustainable Paper Company,” credits a Greenpeace action against the company in 1998 for its launch into sustainability. After activists hung a banner off of one of their paper mills, Domtar started a dialogue with Greenpeace, which it maintains to this day. That experience got Domtar asking questions about how it could use its supply chain as an asset instead of a liability. The company began pursuing certification for its operations and as of 2010, all of Domtar’s owned and licensed forests were certified - 69 percent by the preferred FSC standard. According to Fix, the issue Domtar is now working to address has to do with responsible paper use. The company just launched Pixel and Print Logic with Natural Logic and the Institute of Sustainable Communication. This collaboration yielded a fun, practical infographic that helps professionals understand when it makes the most sense to print. According to Gil Friend of Natural Logic, the flow chart is based on an analysis of more than 70 LCAs that were conducted for Hewlett-Packard.

RecycleBank has built their business on the idea of collaboration. Through their website, the company offers customers rewards for taking specific actions to live more sustainably. The nature of RecycleBank’s business depends on collaboration with governments, utility companies, and businesses to track the efforts of their customers. It also requires engagement with users in an effort to make advocates out of consumers who might otherwise be apathetic to the sustainability challenge. RecycleBank is building a connected community of sustainability champions and responsible organizations who are working together to take pragmatic actions to make a difference. Now that’s what I call collaboration!

[Image credit: AlphachimpStudio, Flickr]

*** Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School.

Kara Scharwath

Kara is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant with expertise in consumer research and environmental science. Currently, Kara is working as a Graduate Associate on the <a href="http://corporate.disney.go.com/citizenship2010/">Corporate Citizenship</a> team at the Walt Disney Company. She is also a founding partner of <a href=http://besui.com/">BeSui Consulting</a>, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in consumer insights and marketing communications.

Kara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in <a href="http://admissions.rutgers.edu/Academics/AcademicContent.aspx?CAMPUS=New… Policy, Institutions and Behaviors</a>. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from <a href'"http://www.presidioedu.org/">Presidio Graduate School</a> where she is exploring the impact investing space and working to identify new ways to increase access to capital for start-ups and social ventures. Follow her on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/karameredith">@karameredith</a&gt;.

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