Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of blogs on collaboration. The series will highlight BSR’s working groups and cross-sector partnerships in order to share lessons learned and to help build a roadmap for the future. We will be publishing these perspectives throughout the year and look forward to your comments.

Everywhere we turn, there is collaboration. In addressing crime, Bill Bratton and Harvard University Professor Zachary Tumin’s book Collaborate or Perish! argues that collaboration will be the only way to improve the safety of cities. In advancing business, Verizon and Microsoft funded a study that concludes, “Collaboration can positively impact each of the gold standards of performance—profitability, profit growth, and sales growth.” And, of course, in addressing climate change, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu says, “Open collaboration in energy innovation will be a key part of fighting climate change.”

However, those of us working in the field of collaboration know just how difficult it can be to get it right. Keeping the group driven toward the same goals and motivated, moving swiftly by consensus, and resourcing, both financially and with the right people, are just some of the challenges we face. However, we also know that collaboration is the more sustainable way to make change. 

Now that sustainability and collaboration have hit the mainstream, BSR wants to "fast-forward" our efforts to deliver impact on our sustainability challenges. As part of these efforts, we are featuring a blog series on the lessons learned from our collaborative initiatives in order to foster cross-sector learning, inspire others to either join our efforts or create new efforts for sustainability solutions, and to create innovations across industries. We will focus on three areas: standards and tools for industries, shaping and scaling sustainability impacts, and innovation. 

Standards and Tools Development

Collaboration is essential to improving the quality of the standards and tools used by industries and to achieve consistency of practices, increase transparency and accountability, and assure buy-in and credibility among peers and stakeholders.

BSR will share lessons from the Sustainable Water Group, which works on water use and wastewater discharge in the global apparel supply chain. We will also feature the Clean Cargo Working Group, a global business-to-business initiative dedicated to improving the performance of marine container transport through measurement, evaluation, and reporting.

Shaping and Scaling Sustainability

Companies are increasingly working together to shape and scale industry best practices. BSR will feature lessons from our Mills and Sundries Working Group on what the apparel industry is doing to reinforce mutual transparency and continuously improve its factories. We will also look at the Center for Sustainable Procurement, which shapes how purchasing decisions in supply chain industries can include information on sustainability data.

Innovation

There is no doubt that in order to address the greatest sustainability challenges, we will need to work together and change the way we are doing things. With world energy consumption set to rise 40 percent between 2012 and 2030, there is unprecedented pressure to address the impact that this will have on our climate. BSR’s Future of Fuels Working Group is an ambitious initiative that will help global companies understand the greatest sustainability impacts of their transportation fuel system and explore what can be done to address those impacts.

More than a hundred years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, we continue to face basic labor and human rights compliance challenges, as demonstrated by the recent fires in Pakistan and Bangladesh. This year our Beyond Monitoring Working Group will look at their work over the last years to examine what we have learned and what can be done to fast-forward responsibility in the global supply chain. 

An unprecedented opportunity exists today for business, investors, government, and NGOs to collaborate on and realize a vision of shared sustainability leadership. In order to make the impact we need to address the greatest challenges of our time, and we will need to work together. We will need to be effective in how we collaborate, learn from others, and continue to make significant impacts. 

In the comments section, please let us know your own experiences with collaboration—Where do you think more collaboration is needed? What challenges you think need to be addressed through partnership?—and continue to read our blog series!