According to a new study, “Joining Forces: Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability,” companies are realizing they “can’t go it alone” when it comes to sustainability. Collaboration is emerging as a strong focus.  Businesses see the threat of climate change and the need to collaborate to address that threat.

The authors, MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group, in collaboration with the UN Global Compact, a recognized leader on issues of sustainability, surveyed about 3800 managers, and interviewed sustainability leaders around the globe.

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Key Findings:

  • 90% agree collaboration needed for sustainability
  • 47% say their companies are collaborating on sustainability
  • Out of this, 61% say the collaborations are successful

The trends show that sustainability is being woven deeper into companies.  The data suggests that businesses that collaborate on sustainability are going past shallow greening. They tend to pursue strategic or transformational change. There are several reasons that companies are seeking to collaborate on sustainability. Brand and company reputation was the strongest motivators for this trend, with 78% ranking it at the top. 

Most collaboration was with other businesses in the private sector (almost 60%). The companies with the greatest focus on sustainability partnered with a wide range of groups.  Businesses that were most earnest about their sustainability efforts collaborated two times more. And, the more collaborations, the greater the likelihood of success.

More Board Support Needed

86% of the respondents believed that their boards should play a strong role in sustainability. Only 22% reported that their board of directors were significantly involved. There was a correlation between the perceived support of the board and the success of the collaborative partnerships. 67% said their collaborations were quite successful if they felt that their board supported sustainability efforts. Less than half that number felt that way if they said their boards were more detached from sustainability issues. 

The report noted several barriers to board support, including a lack of education on sustainability, lack of clarity on financial impacts, and other priorities. According to the authors, however, one of the biggest barriers was directors’ mistaken belief that it is their legal and fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value on a short-term basis. The report talks about ways to remove barriers, including education for the board about sustainability and creating long-term value.

Read the full report here.