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Collaboration
Could You Join Unilever, M&S and Nike in #theBigShift?

In sustainability, the 'lone wolf' will soon be a thing of the past, as collaboration becomes increasingly necessary to make real changes.

In October, Dell outlined its 2020 Legacy of Good plan, but admitted that it wouldn't be able to achieve its ambitious goals alone.

Step in #theBIGshift — Forum for the Future's latest (and potentially biggest) initiative aims to transform the key systems that we rely on, and champion the rewards for those businesses and other organizations who are stepping up to the challenge of creating a sustainable future.

"However, individual efforts can only take you so far. Working with others to solve systemic challenges presents real opportunities and can step up the pace and scale of change. We call this systems approach #theBIGshift and we want ambitious organisations, large and small, to join us.”

Long-term success, or risk of failure

The global sustainability non-profit says that businesses need to influence the nature of the systems in which they operate to innovate for long-term success.

To achieve this, Forum for the Future offers a three-stage process for system innovation. The first stage involves diagnosing the issues within the system that need to be addressed, whether that’s food, energy or other systems. The second stage involves developing pioneering initiatives to meet the challenge and the last stage sees organisations scaling up their initiatives to create impact.

If you’re wondering what this might look like, have a look at AkzoNobel’s story, which needed to meet complex but key sustainability issues within its industry.

AkzoNobel

“Business models are at risk from all quarters — from fast-emerging disruptive technologies to the notion of ‘radical transparency,’ where it’s much more difficult to hide supply chain secrets," says Uren. "They are also at risk from major changes in their operating context. They must have one eye on the future if they are to remain successful in a complex and rapidly changing world. Doing nothing presents real risks. Acting now opens exciting opportunities.

M&S, Nike and Unilever

Forum for the Future argues there is a robust business case for pioneering sustainability practices, which includes resilient supply chains, efficiency gains and market differentiation.

This approach has been working for M&S — from an initial £40m per year investment in 2007 at the start of Plan A came a total business benefit of £185m in Year 5.

Mike Barry, Director of Plan A at Marks & Spencer, said: “Forum have played an important role in making Marks and Spencer’s Plan A ambitious and successful. As a result, we’ve seen firsthand the commercial benefits of embedding sustainability thinking across our business. But there is so much more we can achieve. Forum are now helping us innovate for the future, challenging us constantly to think about how we can lead with others to change the system and giving us the confidence to act.”

To really see success and change, Forum for the Future says brands can’t think of sustainability as separate from their main brand identity. It points to Unilever, which is integrating ‘Project Sunlight’ into the evolution of its core brand.

Watch Karen Hamilton, VP of Sustainable Business at Unilever, chat below.

It also works with The Crown Estate in the UK and Kingfisher globally — both organisations have now embedded sustainability thinking into their core business plans.

Another finding in Forum’s survey was that 96% of businesses concurred that there are limits to what they can do individually to tackle sustainability. The majority also agreed that it was vital to work with competitors as well as partners. You what this means — it’s time to get stuck in and collaborate.

Nike, who discovered that 60% of the environmental footprint of a pair of their shoes is embedded in its materials, provides a good example of collaboration. They realised they couldn’t address the materials challenge alone, so they’ve taken a systemic approach and partnered with NASA, USAID and US State Department to accelerate a revolution in sustainable materials.

Watch Santiago Gowland, Managing Director of Nike Sustainability & Innovation, chat below.

This post first appeared on the 2degrees blog on December 3, 2013.

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