Our Stakeholder Manager Karina van Ginkel gave a speech this week at the Institute of Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability (ICRS) Exchange on the power of collaboration. At a time when our world faces increasingly complex issues, including the climate crisis, Karina used the opportunity call on the audience of responsible business experts to work together to make progress towards solutions:
“Does anyone else ever wonder what life would be like if Al Gore the 2000 US Presidential election? Would things be as urgent, as uncertain? Would the sitting US President still fundamentally misunderstand the difference between climate and weather?
Perhaps that’s a bit of an egocentric question. You see, I was an 11-year-old in Florida when the recount took place, eventually settling in George W Bush’s favour. I remember my mom crying – it was a pretty sad day.
I was even more sad a few years later after seeing Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The film was a real wake up call for me, and upon reflection it may well be the catalyst leading me to talk about the power of, and frankly need for, collaboration.
I know that for many of our readers I’m preaching to the converted but we live in a time of crisis. As Greta Thunberg says, the house is on fire! We have a lot of work to do, and quickly.
We already have the tools, and while progress is being made, such as government signatures to the Paris Agreement and business commitments to the UN SDGs, in their own silos they’re simply not enough.
Translating such promises into action requires collaboration, networking and knowledge sharing. For instance, event the behemoth Amazon can’t innovate on its own, recently partnering with brands like Proctor & Gamble to make progress reducing their packaging and waste.
What we need is a collaboration revolution, enabling positive activities to scale, faster.
A movement where we work together to create something far more than the sum of its parts.
An approach that unites business, press, government and the third sector, between and among each other,
As Al Gore noted in An Inconvenient Truth, working together, we’ve already solved a global environmental crisis before. Do you remember the gaping hole in the ozone layer? Phasing out the chemicals causing that problem required cooperation from every nation, and that was no easy feat.
Now, we have to collaborate again, and society is increasingly looking to the private sector to lead on addressing the pressing issues we face.
But do businesses need to choose profit over sustainability? Or competition over collaboration? Absolutely not! We already know there are substantial market opportunities for businesses that can capitalise on systemic change, and that collective efforts are most impactful when they are both for society and business.
But we also know that for big businesses there are multiple platforms to aggregate and develop sustainability efforts. For example, the Consumer Goods Forum and its combined annual turnover of over $3.5 trillion acting together on plastics, food waste, forced labour and deforestation. Larger businesses also generally have more human and capital resources to devote to such sustainability efforts.
Yet in the UK, small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are over 99% of all private sector businesses, comprising 60% of all private sector employment and over half (52%) of all private sector turnover.
I personally didn’t know this before working at Heart of the City. And yet, despite their footprint, Heart of the City is one of the only organisations working in a collaborative space to support SMEs with the early stages of their responsible business development.
SMEs may experience unique challenges, including limited time, experience and budget, but this group simply cannot be ignored. Indeed, it’s often these smaller, nimbler businesses that have the freedom to innovate and respond quicker to changing market conditions.
If the UK is to achieve a genuine change towards sustainability, these smaller companies need to be encouraged and supported to believe that not only is it possible, but also that it’s essential for them to develop responsible business activities of their own.
Heart of the City specialises in collaborating with large firms to provide practical support to these smaller companies in order to develop responsible business programmes which work for them. Indeed, my entire role is based on the power of collaboration – seeking out the best practice in the responsible business world and making it relevant for small business.
Since 2000, we’ve supported over 850 London-based businesses to become more responsible, more sustainable. But we too can’t do it alone.
At Heart of the City we’re a small but mighty team, and we have great ambitions. But we know we can’t deliver the change we want without your help.
We want to work more closely with responsible business experts to leverage best practice and ensure that more small businesses are receiving the support they need, to address the issues that we face.
We also want larger businesses to connect more with responsible small businesses who have gone through our programme and who can add tremendous value to their own supply chains, client base and programmes.
Of course, there isn’t a one size fits all approach to collaboration and Heart of the City is by no means the only organisation you can seek to align with. Indeed, our friends at the ICRS, Business in the Community and B Corp, among others, are providing spaces for businesses to convene, nurture relationships and advance the sustainability agenda, including at the ICRS Exchange.
So, when looking for collaborators, be broad and inclusive. You can look to your neighbour, your local councils, charities, small businesses, industry groups and so forth. Some of the best partnerships can come from the most unlikely places!
More than anything, this is about calling on everyone to reach, or continue to reach beyond the programmes of your individual companies and work with others in order to scale a successful movement of responsible business that we so desperately need.”