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Why collaboration’s the future of business and women will be key

/ Nov 16, 2012 8:26AM / Print / ()

Why collaboration’s the future of business and women will be...

If there was one word I heard more than any other at the first Australian Sustainability Conference held at Darling Harbour last week, it was collaboration.

OK, there were a couple of other phrases that got a lot of airplay, like "doing more with less" and "if it can't be measured it can't be managed", but overwhelmingly I came away with the impression that the future of sustainable business is about collaboration and creating a new culture of sharing and engagement.

Why collaboration? Well firstly, if we're going to tackle the problems the world faces, then we need to do it together. Many of the businesses at the conference spoke about employees championing change in the workplace, from introducing fair trade coffee, to printing less. And the take-out was that small changes can make a big difference, as people get on board and drive further changes, and also reconsider the purpose of business in people's lives.

Tim O'Leary, chief sustainability officer at Telstra, noted that information sharing across supply chains will be huge as companies increasingly require their suppliers to share information on their sustainability efforts. Sustainability brings employees together, and then brings companies together to share information. This is a trend that will only continue as companies work together to measure and monitor their "green" credentials.

On the matter of "green", though, is increasingly too narrow a focus, as sustainability includes not only the traditional focus on environmental policies and their economic impact, but embraces the people side of the triple bottom line (people, profit and planet). So while sustainability can mean reducing your carbon footprint or creating less waste, it can also mean ensuring that people are treated fairly in the course of doing business.

The wide-lens sustainability view sees benefits in terms of employee engagement and loyalty. A recent Ernst and Young survey found that collaboration on sustainability initiatives increased employee engagement with businesses and their values, leading to better hiring and retention, operational efficiencies, increased innovation and stronger customer and community relations.

American linguistics professor George Lakoff wrote in a recent article on HuffPost Green that global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy. He argued that "systemic causation" is a term we should all get familiar with; referring to a combination of events within a system that cause events that cannot be directly shown, but nevertheless can be causally linked.

In the same way, and on the positive side, collaboration on sustainability initiatives appears to systemically increase company performance. Companies listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index performed 36.1% better than the traditional Dow Jones Group Index over a five -ear period according to The Hero's Handbook recently released by the Republic of Everyone. That's got to be a good thing.

As Yvon Chouinard, the founder of outdoor equipment company Patagonia, recently said:

"Businessmen who focus on profits wind up in the hole. For me, profit is what happens when you do everything else right."

Patagonia is a brand so focused on sustainable collaboration that they not only offers to repair and reuse its products, but makes it easier for customers to sell them on eBay.

It's a new caring and sharing way of being in business that is reaping benefits, and one that ought to suit our leaders down to the ground.



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