Measuring the Effectiveness of Collaborations for Sustainable Solutions

Collaboration may be a popular buzz-word, but is it really effective? As I have argued in three previous Global Warming is Real articles, a collaborative approach to sustainability offers the fastest and most effective means of combating climate change. Now more than ever a variety of strategic partnerships are emerging between industry and governments, academia and non-government organizations (NGOs).

Sustainability depends on collaboration

Almost 70 percent of charitable organizations are collaborating to share resources, save costs, and generate revenue. Approximately 90 percent are interacting with each other in other ways. But charities are not the only organizations benefiting from collaboration, collaborative efforts are helping to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing our world.

As reported in an Environmental Leader article, Indian IT services firm Wipro is collaborating with German software company SAP to provide a suite of solutions that will combine SAP’s environmental sustainability performance and energy management tools with Wipro’s “green” consulting services. Their collaborative efforts will help customers identify and reduce costs by adopting greener practices.

According to Dr. Neil Hawkins, Dow Chemical Company Vice President of Sustainability and Environment, Health & Safety, sustainability is a conduit for collaboration. In January 2011, Dow and The Nature Conservancy announced a $10 million collaboration to help define the value of nature for industry.

In an Environmental Management and Energy News article entitled Collaboration as a Conduit for Sustainability, Solutions to World Challenges, Hawkins discussed Dow's next-generation 2015 Sustainability Goals which are focused on creating stronger relationships within the community, improving product stewardship and accelerating innovation while reducing their global footprint. He indicates that Dow's enterprise-level sustainability "can, and should, be a conduit for developing formal partnerships, joint ventures and dually-supported initiatives."

Hawkins believes that companies seeking strategic partnerships with industry, academia, NGOs and government should begin with "stakeholder mapping and determining target areas or sectors that would help advance their sustainability goals." He stressed the importance of benchmarks to measure success.

In a 2010 Alliance Magazine article, Richard Kennedy, Head of Social Investment at CAN and a director of the Social Return on Investment Network reviewed ways of measuring collaboration.

Kennedy points out that some charities are using SROI (social return on investment) tools to measure the social value created, particularly the benefits of collaboration. The definition of SROI offered by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), one of CAN’s customers, is "a framework for measuring social value" and "a type of economic analysis rooted in cost-benefit analysis".

Calculating the SROI involves listening to stakeholders, identifying the outcomes that are important to them and then, if possible, putting a financial value on these outcomes. Kennedy's approach involves sending questionnaires to a representative sampling of the target group and conducting follow-up interviews. This approach enabled CAN to quantify the value placed on collaboration. Although this type of research is new, we can expect to see more refinements so that it can be applied more broadly to the private sector.

There is a good reason why an increasing number of companies are turning to collaborative approaches to meet their sustainability goals. As the sophistication of this research methodology evolves we are likely to see a pool of quantitative evidence demonstrating the value of collaboration to combat climate change.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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