Monday, September 24, 2007

Speaking sustainability, ENGO-business cooperation

How can ENGOs and businesses work together on sustainability? The key is alignment. Where conservation goals can be aligned with business interests, then it can work.

What doesn't work?

For ENGOs, it won't work to try to squeeze concessions out of businesses that promote conservation but are peripheral to core business interests.

For businesses, it won't work to buy or beg ENGO support for activities that do little or nothing for conservation.

That's nice, you say, for the few issues that are win/win, where business and conservation interests coincide. But how about everything else? And how often is this fairy tale alignment gonna happen anyway?

Here's the really interesting part...IMHO, business/conservation alignment can be built where it's not readily apparent. Alignment won't happen on every issue, but it can happen a lot more often than most people think.

It takes good strategic vision to see possibilities for alignment, and courage to follow the vision. It takes big picture thinking, and dropping stereotypes and calcified positions. It takes a focus on fundamental core values, and a willingness to listen to other people when they talk about what they really want to achieve.

Flexibility of mind may be the hardest thing to ask people to do. If you've always hated big business, then you need to spend some time with people who work in big business. I assure you, they're not as evil as you think. If environmental groups leave you angry, then find someone who can talk about the real goals of the environmental movement. It's not the end of corporations, even though some people might say that.

I got started on this journey a long time ago, when someone said "don't let your cause turn into an excuse for feeling superior to others." I thought about it, and declared myself guilty of feeling superior. Yuck, once I saw that I felt rotten. As I worked to discard that baggage, I found more allies on "the other side" of any issue.

So, with a little clarity, it's not too hard to look past pushy positions and soap-box shouters on either side of an apparent divide like business/ENGOs. Look for the people actually thinking and doing, and trying to solve problems. Talk to them about big picture goals, and ask each other if there's any common interest. It's fun to try, and it certainly can't hurt.

There you have it, the blogfish truth on ENGO/business sustainability partnerships. So what'll it be? Raving and raging, and excoriating the impure and unwashed? Or looking for alignment as a way to build sustainable success in sustainability?

This isn't a new issue that came up during Stanford's Business Strategies for Environmental Sustainability, but the program definitely took me to new heights on this line of thinking. I heard specific case studies of people building alignment where there was once no alignment, to real advantage. I heard business leaders in the class groping for solutions, just like me. Did you hear that? They were looking for solutions, JUST LIKE ME. Whattya know?! As they say where I come from: "well shut my mouth." And maybe, once or twice, I did.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this series, Mark. Sounds like a really cool and inspirational week. It appears that the new climate of collaboration between business and environmental goals that you describe may be gaining traction -- see, for example, the recent essay by Peter Madden

Let's hope so.