Do you feel that once you’ve met one environmentalist, you’ve met them all … and that each of them comes with a banner in their backpack? If so, and if that’s stopping you from collaborating with them, you’re likely missing out on an opportunity that could help your company gain an important competitive edge. Partnering with environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) can, at the very least, buffer your brand against the perception of “greenwashing” or potentially even spark the development of breakthrough products and systems that revolutionize your business or even your sector.
Historically the corporate and conservation communities have been pitted against each other and there was a time, not long ago, when it seemed that all environmentalists were out to get big, bad companies and tell the world about their sins. Thankfully, a more sophisticated view on business and civil society prevails today.
In fact, there are many examples of collaborations between businesses and ENGOs that have changed industries for the better. Here are snapshots of four of my favorite game-changing collaborations, all based on a shared vision of transforming the way we do business as well as the way we live on our planet.
1. Harry Potter Works Magic for Forests Globally
When our ENGO Canopy approached Potter publisher Raincoast Books in 2002 about printing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth book in the blockbuster Potter series, on 100% post-consumer recycled paper, environmental publishing was still in its infancy. Luckily for the Whomping Willow and its friends, the Canadian publisher embraced the opportunity and worked with Canopy and New Leaf Paper to ensure that the massive print run was completed on Ancient Forest Friendly™ paper. At the time, it was the only edition of the young wizard’s escapades to be printed on eco-paper.
The initiative received J.K. Rowling’s support, hundreds of thousands of dollars of earned media, and numerous awards and accolades. Following Raincoast’s lead, other North American book publishers started printing blockbuster titles on environmental papers, while mainstream paper producers scrambled to develop eco-options. By the time the last Potter book rolled off the press in 2007, it was printed on ecopapers in 24 countries. The Canopy/Raincoast legacy: hundreds of thousands of trees from the world’s endangered forests left standing, a generation of Potter fans inspired, and book publishing changed forever.
2. Keeping Our Cool with CFC and HFC-Free Fridges
Coming out of the 1987 Montreal Protocol commitment to eliminate ozone-depleting fluorocarbons, Greenpeace scientists worked to develop a more environmentally benign refrigeration technology. In 1992, Greenpeace partnered with German company FORON to develop the first ten “Greenfreeze” technology refrigerators — appliances completely free of CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs in both the refrigerant cycle and the insulation. Greenpeace Germany and FORON quickly moved to market and within three weeks of launch had secured 70,000 orders from German households.
This technology has since been advocated for and adopted by leading consumer brands such as Coca Cola, Ben & Jerry’s and McDonald’s. Today, more than 600 million Greenfreeze fridges have been sold worldwide by leading appliance brands like Bosch, Miele, Whirlpool and Siemens. Greenfreeze technology has received numerous awards over the years. Its highest accolade: The annual benefit for the climate is equivalent to taking 4.5 million cars off the road.
3. Idling in the Face of Adversity?
Diesel combustion trucks are known for belching soot, greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Aware of the impact of its 30,000-truck fleet, FedEx partnered with Environmental Defense Fund in 2000 to develop a delivery truck that would provide significantly better gas mileage in addition to substantively reduced emissions. The result was a diesel-electric hybrid truck. Like a conventional delivery truck in every other way, the hybrids had 44% greater fuel efficiency, emitted 33% less GHGs and 90% less particulate matter.
Between FedEx’s ability to attract manufacturers and trial truck performance and EDF’s expertise in defining metrics of environmental performance, this partnership stands to revolutionize the impact of delivery transportation once economy of scale production is achieved.
4. One Day You’ll Tell Your Kids We Used to Make Paper from Forests
In North America, paper is made almost exclusively from forests. However in 2008, Canadian Geographic magazine demonstrated that a new reality was possible when it became the first magazine in North America to print an issue on paper made partly from wheat straw. Using 60% less trees than other magazines on the newsstands, Canadian Geographic and mill partner New Page turned the “crazy pipedream” of our forest-conservation NGO into a business solution on the brink of commercial realization. Canopy brought multiple partners together including the publisher, technical experts Alberta Innovates, New Page and Dollco Printers to ensure the trial was a success. Even though Canadian Geographic received more positive letters to the editor for this issue than any other in its history, a lack of straw pulping infrastructure in Canada and the US has prevented this trial from becoming the norm for North American magazines.
To break this bottleneck, Canopy has proceeded to broker other high-profile market trials, including one with iconic author Margaret Atwood for her 2011 book, In Other Worlds, on the first completely straw/recycled paper produced at a mainstream North American paper mill. Canopy is now working with green entrepreneurs to bring straw photocopy papers and to build straw pulping capacity to ensure straw pulps and papers become a commercial reality in North America.
Behind these examples are many other successful business/ENGO collaborations that have enabled both entities to enhance their social license, build brand capital, leverage new talent, and extend environmental and business impact. A powerful confirmation of the adage: “the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.” How about we put that on a banner?
**Up next…**What do meaningful business-NGO partnerships look like? 10 tips for success.