Sustainability through collaboration

BMTRADA discuss the link between promoting sustainability and successful collaborative efforts, answering the questions 'Why be sustainable' and 'What does sustainability through collaboration mean for business?'. 


Why be sustainable?

Changing global perspectives have driven the shift to sustainable business practices. Consumers and leaders alike are more aware than ever of their impact on the environment, society and industry, causing higher expectations to be set. Sustainability is an issue that impacts us all – it is not only a problem for countries currently feeling the repercussions of past action. It affects current industry, investors, governments and NGOs, along with the general population. 

It is no longer possible to ignore the reality that non-sustainable practices have created. Wildfires paired with droughts and famine across the globe suddenly feel closer to home than ever. 

Due to this, companies have been burdened with addressing the stark disconnect between the knowledge of current issues, and applied action. This can only be solved through a sustainable approach which considers all aspects of sustainability, including economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Businesses must ensure that today's needs are met, without compromising the needs of the future.

What does collaboration look like?

We live in a world where no individual is independent of those around them. Interconnection and interdependence is the framework of modern society. This mentality can be carried through into business. It is how we collaborate today that will strengthen our relationships in the future.

Within a business context, collaboration takes the form of a flexible approach. There is no one set of rules that can be applied to all businesses and organizations. It is about having a continuous and open conversation with your clients, stakeholders, and suppliers – ensuring all parties have each other's interests at heart. 

A genuinely collaborative business can rely on its partners to help drive positive change, develops its goals with others in mind, invests in a combined future and promotes joined advancement. 

Collaborative business relationships, which usually involve two or more organizations, can take many forms. These can range from informal arrangements to long term networks or alliances, joint delivery of specific projects or joint ventures.

Collaborative relationships can last for a fixed time in the case of project delivery or can be a more lasting arrangement. Both have the same end goal: a joint business arrangement to mutual advantage, which delivers accurate and identifiable added value. To put it simply, collaboration looks like successful and strong relationships, no matter the application. 

What does sustainability through collaboration mean for business? 

By promoting a collaborative environment, you are driving and enabling sustainable practices, something that will not only bring benefits to the environment, society and economy but to your business individually. 

Potential benefits include: 

  • Better problem-solving – by collaborating, you are allowing a different perspective to help guide your decisions.
  • Improved reputation – sustainability is important to clients and partners alike. By ensuring your business operates sustainably, you are increasing your positive presence within the market
  • Boosted customer satisfaction – customers and clients always look for the most sustainable option at a fair price.
  • Increased trust – by demonstrating collaboration and sustainable action, you improve trust not only between you and the client but between you and other organizations you may wish to work with.
  • Reinforced business performance and promoting an innovative culture – by focusing on collaboration and sustainability, you drive innovation within your organization.
  • Better supply chain relationships – by creating a principle of collaboration, you are improving the skills of employees company-wide, ensuring that members of your supply chain feel appreciated.
  • Skill development – collaboration and sustainable practices may be new to certain members of your organisation. By promoting them, you are helping the entire business to upskill its employees.
  • Improved customer retention – when clients and customers are getting 'what they want' out of your business, they will not feel the need to go elsewhere. This also applies to your employees. 

 How can self-interest damage your business?

Self-interest may be considered a crucial tool in dominating competition globally, but it can cause negative impacts. Denying a culture of collaboration can damage your reputation and rapport with suppliers and clients, tightening margins and stifling potential growth in the long term.

What to consider when choosing partners

Choosing business partners is much like selecting life partners. It is essential that you both hold common ground and have each other's best interests in mind. This will continue to uplift your business as the relationship develops and becomes more interconnected. 

When choosing partners it is important to consider your end goal. Considering collaboration as a means to an end rather than an open door can cause misalignments in your future plans.

For example if one business who sees collaboration as a method to ‘get what they want’ partners with another who is under the impression that this collaboration is a long term investment they may have different ideologies surrounding their future investments of time , workforce and finances. This can drive a wedge between partners and drag down operational efficiency.

What are the steps towards collaboration and sustainability? 

There is a simple step by step approach to promoting a sustainable future for your business: 

  • identify risks for your organization
  • consider other environmental targets and impacts
  • develop a strategy
  • establish a methodology for consistently gathering data
  • validate and verify data
  • make sustainability part of your decision making
  • select likeminded partners

There are base frameworks available to help build and develop these  strategies, for example, ISO 44001. These schemes can provide a collaborative benchmark, with applications in both the public and private sectors. This can help develop a consistent platform and foundation for development, helping your business manage risk and pioneer approaches to your organizational processes and systems, something that can improve your business's overall effectiveness and efficiency. Only by collaborating will you be able to achieve long term sustainability aims and maintain or grow your place in the market.

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