Until recently, most executives laughed at the idea of collaborating with competitors to drive change. However, if there is anything that the global healthcare crisis, economic slowdown, and environmental distress have taught us, it is that:
Collective ownership is an important step on the journey of de-individualizing sustainability and co-managing the bigger problems faced by the earth, its population, people, and businesses. Starting with purpose and building a collective response strategy lets everybody gain, thus combating the “tragedy of the commons”.
But if the benefits of collaboration are so clear, why do companies find it so difficult to collaborate? What is it that needs to be done to help rethink the role of competition?
1 Build a foundation of confidence and openness
Companies large or small can come together to address problems of scale – once reserved for the attention of governments –to conceive solutions with a cross-industry perspective. Such a strategy requires close investigation of the entire value chain drivers and inter-organizational cooperation.
We must be prepared to let the outside world in.
An excellent example of one such collaboration addresses the sourcing of conflict minerals which include raw materials Gold, Tungsten, Tantalum, and Tin which are sourced from militia-controlled mines in the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo. Responsible Minerals Initiative is an industry-wide collaboration designed to help its 400 member companies make responsible sourcing decisions and improve regulatory compliance while sourcing minerals from these conflict-affected and high-risk areas.
#2 Start with trust, integrity, and honest analysis of existing capabilities
Real work in this area requires intellectual energy, management time, and a mindset shift from the old paradigm where competitors are viewed as enemies to them being allies in a greater cause that demands collective ownership to yield collective benefits for a healthy planet.
It was only when Greenpeace asked Adidas if they were testing wastewater at their suppliers, did leaders at Adidas confess that they did not have a clue. Seven years after the launch of “Detox my Fashion” campaign by Greenpeace, companies representing around 15% of global clothing production have made significant progress in phasing out chemicals from their production-lines. A tough industry wide response that was equally troublesome and gruelling started with mutual trust and honest analysis with a vision to collectively move existing risks into opportunities.
#3 Identify a non-corporate entity that acts as a neutralizer
Long established rivalries, different cultures, and even anti-trust issues make it much safer to meet on a neutral ground provided by a facilitator. When UK’s major food retailers met at a University engineering department to talk about reducing emissions that are released when manufacturing the materials for shops or when fitting out retail units, the catalyst to opening up to competitors was the decision to meet on neutral ground with a neutral facilitator and putting sustainability in a pre-competitive space.
However, it is important to consider if a private forum with a neutralizer is the best way to bring every organization and all those different goals and ideas together. Often, increased corporate awareness and the drive to meet “higher purpose” has seen formations of groups such as the Consumer Goods Forum where companies can opt to join subgroups dealing with deforestation, reforestation, waste, environmental impact measurement, etc. that can help tackle the issue. Thus, identifying an appropriate pathway should be done only after close investigation of the issues that the company aims to tackle.
True leadership in turbulent times is about having the vision and fortitude to establish a new normal. The only way we can foster change on the scale required is to take collective ownership of and share responsibility for the planet and its future.
Based on interviews with 25 global multinational corporations as well as employees, middle managers, and senior leaders across multiple sectors, this is the first book to connect sustainability to the theory and principles of psychological ownership and to propose a succinct, easy-to-digest model of managerial use.
This fortnightly knowledge byte series is an effort to simplify the understanding of sustainability and share insights that help actively be part of building a future that is just, equal and sustainable for all.