Organizational Change
Gatekeepers to Gateways:
Trade Associations Key to Gaining Ground in Industry Sustainability

The recent launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the commitment last month of over 170 countries to the Paris climate agreement illustrate global consensus regarding the sustainability issues we need to tackle to put society and the planet on a secure path.

Now, the hard work begins. We all know that business needs to be an equal partner with governments, civil society and citizens to realize these ambitions. We also know that unless business collaborates with peers and competitors within its industry and beyond, these goals will be little more than a pipe dream. The Herculean task of re-engineering business value chains and their operating contexts to advance an inclusive, circular and low-carbon economy can only be achieved if sectors address barriers and opportunities together.

Needless to say, a sustainable future will not be achievable if companies don’t work together.

Coro Strandberg,
SB'16 San Diego
Fortunately, sectors that have not yet started this journey can learn from those that have. In Canada, for example, the Mining Association of Canada, Forest Products Association of Canada, Chemistry Industry Association of Canada and Hotel Association of Canada have each defined what sustainability means for their industries, and developed metrics, goals and standards to advance social and environmental progress for their members. Their journeys are summarized in this one-page sustainability roadmap and have informed this “How-To-Guide” for industry associations.

Industry associations navigating this path realize these advantages:

Member benefits

  • Attract and retain members: Sustainability programming increases the value and relevance of the association to current and prospective members. It also reduces the risk that members will have their sustainability needs met by other organizations or initiatives.
  • Identify member priorities: Generic global sustainability initiatives and standards can make priority-setting for business members difficult. An association-wide approach can assist members to develop a relevant, tailored model.
  • Fulfill association goals: Sustainability tools and resources enhance member profitability and competitiveness.
  • Enhance innovation: Sustainability programs foster sector innovation and ensure members keep pace with – if not ahead of – regulatory, competitive and marketplace trends.

Association benefits

  • Build positive government and stakeholder relations: Associations that increase their sustainability expertise are better positioned to contribute positively to regulatory initiatives and to engage constructively with NGOs and stakeholders.
  • Build industry reputation and brand: Sustainability guidelines and benchmarks demonstrate an industry’s commitment to sustainable practices and leadership. They can boost positive stakeholder relationships with customers, communities, NGOs, suppliers and others.
  • Enhance employee and volunteer recruitment and retention: Associations with sustainability programs attract and retain the best and brightest employees and volunteers who prefer to work for organizations aligned with their values.

Forward-thinking trade associations understand these drivers; they provide education, resources and support to their business members to enhance their capabilities to steward their organizations and society to future success.

Use this checklist tool to set a strategic course for your industry’s sustainability programs. Canadian trade associations can join this initiative.


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