Written by Dr. Christian Jahn, Executive Director of the Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN)

There is nothing quite like a pandemic to show how interconnected we all are – not only in terms of our shared vulnerabilities but also the shared solutions we can find by working together. The extraordinarily rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine shows what is possible when we collaborate, and this should signal the vast potential in collaborating to tackle the complex and urgent challenges we face today – from fighting hunger and poverty to taking climate action.

Collaboration might typically be seen as the public sector’s purview, for instance the recent launch of the multilateral Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative following the G7 talks. But businesses can also join in this spirit of partnering and should not be fated to return to “business as usual” post-pandemic.

Many businesses are already showing how collaboration makes good business sense, especially in an era when consumers and government increasingly expect them to demonstrate their societal value. As a recent Capgemini report shows, 79 per cent of consumers’ preferences are based on a brand’s social responsibility, inclusiveness or environmental impact.

Doing business differently now means emphasising long-term sustainability over short-term profits and narrow competition. While the pandemic has tested businesses in unprecedented ways, it has also offered an opportunity to do things differently, together.

Firstly, businesses can work together to accelerate or scale innovations. For example, Renault, the international car manufacturer, founded Renault Mobilize, a social impact fund with the aim to provide sustainable forms of mobility to low-income and other vulnerable populations, such as those in rural areas who rely on a car to get to work. By supporting social businesses that develop innovative solutions, Renault Mobilize’s learnings can later be rolled out and scaled by the company, providing greater access to more sustainable means of transport.

Secondly, collaboration allows businesses to manage threats in their supply chains more proactively. The benefits to this are manifold, including operational efficiencies and risk management, but moreover to make even more ambitious sustainability commitments.

“The zeitgeist has finally caught up with the urgency of the challenges that we face, and leading companies have been part of frank dialogues about the need to dramatically raise levels of ambition and accelerate action in a more systematic way,” says Filippo Veglio, Managing Director of The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Vision 2050.

Ambitious commitments and targets can bolster healthy competition and build strong, resilient, and inclusive economies. Food and agri-business Olam International has joined a coalition of peers to develop living income benchmarks for all countries from where they source their cocoa. By ensuring that farmers earn a decent income from their crop, the coalition is setting the groundwork for a sustainable future for cocoa – something they would not be able to achieve on their own.

Lastly, by collaborating businesses can build trust and reputation with their consumers. As part of Primark’s Sustainable Cotton Programme they are working with CottonConnect and local partners to train and educate 160,000 cotton farmers on more environmentally friendly farming practices. This initiative is not only popular with consumers, but also creates huge improvements for farmers and workers.

Not only are consumers keen to understand the impact of their purchasing choices, they are also invited to be part of the effort directly themselves. For example, Adidas, in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, is making shoes out of recycled ocean plastic. They encourage their customers to download a running app whereby for every one kilometre run, Adidas and Parley promise to clean-up 10 plastic bottles to prevent them entering the ocean. This way, consumers are also part of the solution and companies raise awareness, and gain loyalty, trust – and profit.

Trust in business coalitions only comes when there is transparency and accountability. As coalitions become the new norm, they will have to hold businesses accountable and negate any accusations of greenwashing by having selective membership and strict monitoring. This will also push businesses to set – and achieve – increasingly ambitious social and environmental goals.

There is a growing consensus that collaboration is key if we are going to make any global progress. It is refreshing to see that companies are showing they mean business when it comes to delivering on our shared sustainability goals.


Cover picture: depositphotos.com