Corporate Sustainability: The Value of Collaboration

A Look Back and a Glimpse Forward

Author Susan Graff, VP

Author Susan Graff,
VP Global Corporate Sustainability

Where did the leaders in corporate sustainability invest their time and resources in 2014 to create value? Outside their property boundaries: leveraging social capital to address shared sustainability risks, improving resource efficiencies, and creating market pull for new products.

Greening the Supply Chain

Early in the year, data from Trucost provided important insight at the GreenBiz Forum: for most industrial sectors – from food and beverage to health care to retail – the majority of greenhouse gas emission and solid waste is generated in the supply chain. We saw McDonald’s make the connection by creating a sustainable beef partnership with their agricultural supply chain. It was a bold new example of cooperation and stewardship to voluntarily address these factors linked to climate change.

In 2014, Walmart used the Carbon Disclosure Project survey for Supply Chain to raise supplier awareness and catalyze disclosure within the household and personal care product sector. These companies discovered their carbon hot spots, and 2015 will likely bring more intense supplier engagement via strategic sourcing policies that either eliminate waste or specify materials that can increase demand for recycled content feedstock.

Collaborating for Sustainable Materials Management

Given EPA’s analysis on sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, sustainable materials management is the most practical set of actions the business community can embrace to reduce emissions and combat climate change. Across sectors, zero waste and diversion from landfill continued to grow in the form of shared private and public sector goals. The Carton Council, a collaboration of packaging manufacturers working with the public sector, reached a major milestone of 52% access to carton recycling across the US during 2014. The Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) launched the Foam Recycling Coalition that is creating awareness around the recyclability of foam and will be launching a grant program in 2015 that will increase access to post-consumer recycling of foam packaging. The SERDC120 project evolved into The Recycling Partnership, now managed by Curbside Value Partnership (CVP), that leverages grants and technical assistance to improve curbside recycling in the U.S. Of course, we cannot leave out The Closed Loop Fund anchored by Walmart and joined by some of the leaders from Fortune 100 companies – Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Keurig, Goldman Sachs – to invest in improving recycling across the U.S. It is clear we have many tangible opportunities to manage materials better and achieve meaningful carbon emission reductions voluntarily, beyond focusing on fossil fuel sources under the Clean Air Act regulations.

A Collective Look Forward

Where will sustainability investments return the most value in 2015 and beyond? Collective action projects- pooling resources to build cohesive, circular material paths. This will call for renewed focus on the sustainability mantra of the past 24 years: Think Global -> Act Local. Leaders will need to continue to work in three areas of sustainable materials management: 1) food waste 2) supply chain and 3) materials recovery for recycled feedstock and energy. The US materials recovery infrastructure is in dire need of improvements. Private-public partnerships funded in Phoenix, Austin, and municipalities from CA to NY have the potential to pave the way.

Cooperation will be critical to success. While we need leaders that blaze the trail, the first followers are the ones that truly create the movement and build cohesion. Here’s to finding new ways to leverage cooperative advantage in the New Year.

 Where do you think 2015 will lead? Tell us in the comments section below.