Advancing ESG and sustainability through collaboration
By Monika Warniełło, account manager at Grayling Poland
The issues facing our planet and society cannot be solved in isolation. No single brand, company, government, scientist or NGO can deliver change alone. To influence in a meaningful way on a macro scale and achieve green goals we need commitment, strong communications and a shared vision for more sustainable future. More and more businesses are aware of this fact, according to a newly issued study by the Accordience Group. The purpose of the study was to better understand the attitudes of business leaders on collaborating to achieve corporate sustainability goals, what they think the positives are and the barriers to be overcome, and what effect collaboration between businesses have on public trust.
At a time of political division around society’s collective response to climate change, this research highlights a crucial point: collaboration drives better ESG and sustainability outcomes. Encouragingly, the data reveals that over 90% of business leaders are now prioritising sustainability. These leaders need to engage customers, suppliers, employees, future talent, and investors in their plan for a sustainable transition. The research demonstrates that meaningful collaboration with standard setting bodies, competitors, or regulators builds public trust in a company’s sustainability story. Although the study was conducted in the UK, we feel the key findings are universal and global and equally relevant to Poland.
Sustainability is a priority
Based on the research, a majority of UK companies are prioritising sustainability – over 90% of business leaders confirm it as a core priority for their organisation. All of them are in agreement that companies can’t address significant challenges in isolation, and they should be working together to tackle major issues like climate change. At the same time, 81% of UK business leaders would like to see more enterprises working together to tackle major sustainability matters. The findings show that awareness of the problem and the need for action is there – but what’s holding back joint action?
The Accordience report reveals a flaw in the route to successful collaborations for sustainability action – it is called the ‘collaboration trust paradox’. UK adults have little or no trust in businesses that call themselves ‘sustainable’, at the same time they are more likely to trust businesses that collaborate on sustainability and want to see more business cooperation in future. On the other hand, leaders are keen to work together, but many of them don’t trust the idea of collaboration for fear of over-sharing information with competitors.
How to overcome these barriers? At first, greater sharing of best practice examples and greater support for cross industry initiatives from government and regulators. Bringing down the competitive barriers and working collaboratively seems to be essential for successful sustainability action. But for many, that’s easier said than done. There has been (and still are) too many routes to target-setting and reporting, either voluntary or mandated; calls for greater standardisation are being heard and responded to.
A deeper dive into the Collaboration Trust Paradox
Over half of UK adults don’t trust companies that call themselves ‘sustainable’— most often they mention that it’s a marketing gimmick or all a money-making scheme. However, over a third of UK adults would have greater trust in businesses that describe themselves as sustainable if they were working in collaboration with external partners whether they be NGOs, business associations or companies in their supply chain. Yet, when it comes to the major barriers to collaborating with the others on sustainability goals, many leaders lack the trust required – mostly they are worried about sharing key information with competitors or they will not receive the credit they deserve for collaborative efforts. Associated costs, changing political and regulatory landscape, fear of getting it wrong, not knowing who to partner with are perceived as the biggest barriers to cooperation from a business perspective.
Cooperation leading to achieve sustainability goals
86% of leaders have collaborated with external partners to achieve ESG objectives, nearly half of whom described their collaborations as “very successful”, a further 47% described the collaborations as “fairly successful”. A majority had partnered with environmental NGOs, trade associations or customers. But which core elements of sustainability are leaders most likely to collaborate on in future? These include helping to determine sustainability targets and transition planning, building community led initiatives, contributing to the implementation and maintenance of industry standards and helping to implement new technologies.
Communication plays a vital role in ensuring that both internal and external stakeholders are engaged and fully understand what actions are being taken and the successes being achieved. Given the number of UK adults who don’t trust businesses that say they’re sustainable, it’s vital that communication is closely aligned with sustainability action and shares tangible proof points. Collaborations help to deliver them and to raise the bar of sustainable leadership. Businesses must work harder to ensure reputation and trust is maintained.
Trust is enhanced through authenticity and transparency
First and foremost, leaders need to reimagine what corporate advantage looks like in a new sustainability-dominated era. Collaboration allows them to invite others to join them on a mission, to help create truly robust organisations while harnessing opportunities for greater stakeholder trust and reputation. Leaders should wear their corporate hearts on their sleeves and not be afraid of sharing, testing, and learning together for the greater good of planet, people and communities. From the analysis, we can extract some key clues as to how ESG goals can be achieved through collaboration. First of all, ensure that all parties have a clear understanding of the sustainability, and define what it means for your business. Having well-defined goals will help keep everyone aligned throughout the collaboration. Secondly, select partners whose values, and sustainability priorities align with yours. Look for businesses that share similar goals in terms of environmental and social responsibility – they will make collaboration more authentic. Establishing a relationship is one thing, but effective communication is crucial for success. Create channels for open and transparent communication between all parties involved. This transparency fosters trust and allows for timely adjustments when needed. Let’s not forget that collaboration should be a two-way street. Identify the strengths and resources that each partner brings to the table. By leveraging these strengths, you can maximise the impact of your sustainability efforts. Finally, define and measure key performance indicators (KPIs) and report progress with your partners of your sustainability initiatives.
Sharing these results demonstrates accountability and also helps identify areas for improvement and opportunities for innovation and future collaborations. Let no communication barriers stop you from fruitful collaborations leading to a better world.
 “Advancing ESG & Sustainability Through Collaboration, a report by Accordience – network of strategic communication agencies including: Grayling, Citigate Dewe Rogerson, Red Consultancy and Cirkle.