A new breed of nonprofit and corporate leader is trading tension and distrust for collaboration to improve corporate environmental practices in significant and lasting ways.
A new report, "Partnering for Sustainability: Managing Nonprofit Organization-Corporate Environmental Alliances," outlines the factors that contribute to the most effective collaborations. The report is based on a
study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that explored the experience and interactions, both adversarial and collaborative, between environmental nonprofits and corporations, and the
factors that determine success.
"These nonprofits and corporations are finding that by joining their
substantial, complementary resources, they can achieve greater environmental protection and corporate profitability," says Dennis A. Rondinelli, Glaxo Distinguished International Professor of Management at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and director of the Center for Global Research at The Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, the business school’s research and outreach arm. Rondinelli conducted the study with Kenan-Flagler doctoral student Ted London.
Traditionally, nonprofits and corporations address environmental issues through protracted and public conflicts, lengthy administrative processes in government agencies and costly litigation in the courts. Recently, a number of environmental nonprofits have teamed with corporations to launch a wide range of community and international environmental projects, Rondinelli and London point out. These alliances focus on developing clean manufacturing and pollution prevention processes and technologies, exploring environmentally neutral or beneficial products and services, and helping conserve natural resources and improve environmental conditions.
The World Wildlife Fund, for example, forged a partnership with Unilever to help save the world’s fisheries. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is expanding its partnerships with businesses after successfully working with McDonald’s to reduce fast-food waste and develop environmentally beneficial packaging. The Alliance for Environmental Innovation is helping market-leading U.S. companies develop methods that reduce environmental impact of their company’s processes and behaviors, as well as those of their
suppliers, competitors and consumers.
The Environmental Law Institute in Virginia works with businesses and
communities to produce "blueprints for sustainable development." The Forest
Stewardship Council works with Home Depot, Lowes, Wickes Lumber and Anderson
Corp. to promote sound forest management worldwide. Conservation International formed a partnership with Starbucks Coffee to use a new shade-grown coffee harvested from farms using agricultural methods that help protect tropical forests.
The goal of these and similar collaborative efforts is to promote
environmentally sustainable development that allows people and organizations
to pursue their current needs without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their needs.
"Corporations, and especially the large multinationals that now dominate global business and trade, can be powerful forces for achieving sustainable development objectives…both in the United States and internationally," the researchers say in their report.
Collaborations may take many forms and range in intensity, from corporate
support for employee participation in a nonprofit’s environmental activities
to environmental awareness and education alliances to environmental
management alliances. The researchers studied dozens of collaborations to
identify the most effective examples of nonprofit-corporate environmental
management alliances. They interviewed team members from 16 such alliances
to determine what factors made them successful.
In every case, they found that corporations in these effective alliances all had adopted practices that exceeded regulatory requirements, that such practices were part of their overall business strategies, and that the companies perceived and valued these practices as good corporate
Key attributes for effective corporate partners included:
* Strong, committed leadership and corporate vision to improve environmental management practices.
* Interested and committed managers to serve as champions for recommended changes.
* Methods of measuring results.
* An ability to get suppliers involved in making environmental improvements in inputs and materials.
Key characteristics of effective nonprofit partners included:
* Credibility as legitimate, responsible and knowledgeable environmental group.
* Experience dealing with private companies and understanding how private enterprise works.
* Ability of the nonprofits to deliver real value to the company through realistic, cost-effective and technically sound recommendations.
The study was funded with a grant from the Nonprofit Sector Research Fund (NSRF) of The Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. The fund seeks to enhance both the quantity and quality of nonprofits. Since its inception in 1991, the fund has provided $7 million in grants to support more than 300 research projects.