“My toy is better than yours!”
“NO, my toy is SO much better than yours!”
Instead of watching kids in the school yard, I see fully-grown professionals in meetings using clever words and strategies to basically say “my approach is better than yours” or “you should partner with us, not them.”
Do we need a school teacher to tell us how to play nice or can we just get on with it?
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a glimpse of true sustainability collaboration - no school teacher involved - and I feel completely invigorated by the potential.
We have so much to gain by working together, and so much to lose by staying fragmented.
I work in sustainability, and have dedicated my career to helping businesses understand their risks and dependencies as they relate to natural capital – that is the stock of renewable and nonrenewable resources that yield significant benefits to business and society.
Our stocks of natural capital are running out. Over the past 50 years, 60% of the world’s ecosystem services have been degraded - deforestation alone equals US$2-5 trillion in lost value.
This is not good news for business. We have to act fast, and we have to act together if we’re going to find the solution.
We can accomplish so much when we put the ego aside and really collaborate.
Competing for the sustainability spotlight is a waste of time and energy. Plus, it’s counter-productive and encourages an influx of competing initiatives that all work towards the same goal (sometimes against each other).
The truth is, we don’t all need to lead, and by definition, we can’t all be leaders all the time, for everything.
We are much stronger and more effective as a network. Together, we’re much more powerful than the sum of our parts - which is why we need more network leadership in natural capital and in general.
Natural capital platforms
My organization, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has been working on natural capital for two decades – even if we didn’t call it that to start with. Many others have also driven progress in this area.
Most recently, there have been several online platforms designed to provide information on natural capital – each with the goal of providing information on natural capital risks and opportunities.
Even though each is useful, there are many different approaches users can take, which confuses and frustrates some of them. Many businesses feel that sustainability organizations might be wasting precious time by constantly reinventing the wheel. Businesses want us to work together, because they know we’ll go further that way.
The Natural Capital Coalition is a key example of this – it brings together a multi-stakeholder open community comprised of over 250 organizations. Together, we’ve established the Natural Capital Protocol – the first ever standardized approach for business to measure its impacts and dependencies on natural capital - and more recently, the Natural Capital Protocol Toolkit, designed to help companies implement the Protocol.
Now it’s time to take the collaboration even further.
I was recently chatting with some colleagues when we realized the potential opportunity to explore more links between our existing natural capital toolkits, communities, platforms and hubs.
So a few of us got together - Futureproof community, the Natural Capital Coalition, Global Value, Oppla, the EU Business & Biodiversity Platform and the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs - to collectively, and more effectively understand the landscape of natural capital “toolkits” and “platforms” with an eye for exploring where these platforms may or may not connect.
After our first collaborative workshop, we agreed that we would work together and connect our respective platforms wherever possible. Moving forward, we openly welcome any other platforms to join our informal group.
It was a special moment as we realized that we’re all working towards the same goal. We have not figured everything out yet, but we’re excited to be working together.
We are network leaders. We can share roles and responsibilities. We can push progress together. We can create personal connections with each other, understand each other’s motivations and build trust so that we can rely on each other.
You can too – but how?
"Don't trust people who don't laugh"
Maya Angelou’s advice is right down my alley. Sharing a laugh with someone is one of the most powerful ways to build relationships - not to mention trust and friendships.
When we developed the Natural Capital Protocol with the Natural Capital Coalition, we organized bowling dinners and a city ghost tour. The whole delivery team even got dressed up as superheroes to celebrate after we had finally released the Protocol, Sector Guides and completed the pilot testing process.
It sounds cheesy, but those experiences create connections which create a network you can rely on.
A strong sense of community is key for any successful sustainability initiative. Now is the best time to leverage that sense of community to drive progress, convergence and generally-accepted approaches to measure and value non-financial performance.
Can we break through our competitive drive to be the one-and-only sustainability hero and open the door to real collaboration? I am convinced we can.
Because that’s the only way we’re really going to get this sustainability job done. After all – enabling everyone to live well, and within the limits of the planet, is the biggest challenge that humanity has yet to face.
Eva Zabey is the Director of Natural Capital and Ecosystems at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
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