“We spend a lot of time in each locale getting to know the people,” says BASF’s Bluethner. “We also have local people on the ground in key countries and bring them to Germany every year for training, and also support and train them in production, marketing and laboratorial work.” INTERNAL COLLABORATIONS Success with internal collaboration is another integral component of success. “How a company partners inter- nally has a lot to do with how it collaborates externally,” says Turner of Stonyfield. “Internal collaborations can be very successful in keeping people excited and aligned with big picture sustainability goals. Internal collabora- tions also create bridges inside the organization.” Sprint’s Hargroves argues that developing internal support can help external collaborations, and vice versa. “People who are on sustainability teams, for the most part, own nothing,” she explains. “So the only way to be successful is to build partnerships — even within the company.” Hargroves also points out that bringing in external voices can spur collaborations. One of those roles can be played by what WWF’s Clay calls “extrapreneurs” — the “honeybees” that “pollinate” multiple institu- tions and open doors so people can see the potential. SHARED LANGUAGE Often, NGOs and corporations do not speak the same language. Having a common dialect, however, is cru- cial. Tima Bansal, director of Network for Business Sustainability (NBS), talks about the need for “bound- ary spanners,” people with the ability to help groups bridge differences in language and culture. George Mason professor Unruh makes the same case. “De- ciphering a partner’s unique sustainability dialect , 15 and recognizing that you have your own, is an impor- tant first step in a productive partnership,” he says. Before it began working with Greenpeace, for example, Asia Pulp & Paper believed it understood the language of sustainability by following best practices and na- tional regulations in China and Indonesia. However, the company found that at first, it needed a “translator” to understand what Greenpeace had to say. Eventually, the language barrier fell, and trust began to develop between the company and the NGO. Eventually, Greenpeace helped Asia Pulp & Paper learn how to become a more responsible company and take a lead- ership role in the zero-deforestation movement. DUE DILIGENCE Michael Arnold, head of corporate partnerships at WWF Switzerland, advocates that nonprofits should “agree with the partner on a truly transformative agenda to avoid controversies. Exerting a positive im- In general, how successful are the sustainability collaborations your organization is engaged in? How many sustainability-related collaborations has your organization been involved in over time? (2011-present) 26-50 11-25 >50 1-3 4-10 Very Quite Somewhat Slightly 8% 35% 40% 14% 17% 46% 29% 6% 21% 57% 18% 4% 35% 45% 18% 2% 50% 45% 5% Figures don't add up to 100% due to rounding and exclusion of those who responded “not at all” or “don’t know”
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- MIT Sloan Management Review, mit sloan management