Common Cause: Fellows Working Group on Collaboration for Corporate Sustainability

Marc Jourdan introduces a thought piece from the Fellows Working Group on Collaboration for Corporate Sustainability

Leading, inspiring collaboration and cooperating to deliver sustainable innovation are some of the requirements 
the IEMA Skills Map lists as being key for a sustainability leader. Sustainability problems are complex and interlinked, so we can only achieve effective solutions through collaboration, working across disciplines, professions, sectors and issues. 

COVID-19 has created a perfect storm for organisations, making the case for collaboration even more pressing. The IEMA Build Back Better Mission Statement made it clear that sector and cross-sector leadership and collaboration must be central to a green recovery. As a result, the pandemic has brought about collaborations at a pace that would have been considered unachievable only a few months ago.

Indeed, an increasing number of public and private sector organisations have come forward with commitments to carbon neutrality, while collaborative initiatives such as the Pledge to Net Zero ( have helped encourage bolder action on climate change. 

“The environmental sector has to be a leader for its own environmental performance," says David Symons, UK director of sustainability at WSP and a case study provider to the IEMA Fellows Working Group on Collaboration for Corporate Sustainability. "Pledge to Net Zero provides a simple way for organisations to take action.”

Fellows Working Group

The Fellows Working Group on Collaboration for Corporate Sustainability was formed in 2020 to develop a thought piece that would highlight the value of these initiatives and provide case study perspectives and recommendations on how collaborative solutions at organisational level can help achieve systemic change for corporate sustainability. Meeting several times throughout the year, the group shared their experiences and helped reveal common stumbling blocks to collaborative systems transformation. These included competitive self-interest, lack of shared purpose and lack of trust. 

Using lessons learnt in their own organisations, the group has highlighted four common drivers of collaboration, which have helped organisations to face these challenges together. These four drivers are: changing societal expectations and the need for ethics and purpose-driven organisations; technological developments; the changing regulatory environment and the growth of sustainable finance; and network organisations and the response to government efficacy. 

Building on these, IEMA Fellows set out their own recommendations on the success factors and scalability of their collaboration in a range of case studies. Pulling these recommendations together, the resulting thought piece was released on 4 December with a webinar launch led by working group members. 

The document supports sustainability professionals in driving positive change regardless of the organisation they 
work for – whether it is an SME, a multinational or a local authority. Containing a wide variety of case study inputs, it makes clear that perspectives on collaboration differ depending on the type of organisation or sector that an organisation operates in. 

“The beauty of a locally built network is that it understands local nuances and culture in a way national and international networks cannot," says Green Arch Consulting founder Emma Knight-Strong, a case study provider to the working group. "This is a long-term project that is fundamentally built on the foundation that the most effective way to drive sustainability in SMEs is to speak the right language, which is why the group governance includes a significant proportion of small business owners.”

Member case studies

Covering issues from modern slavery to circular economies, the member case studies show that organisations venture into collaboration for different reasons, with each providing support specific to that organisation. In one case, it could be a form of knowledge exchange that progresses a specific topic; in another, it could be financial and technical support helping to bring a project to completion and eliminate food waste. 

Due to the range of factors that must be considered, working group members have created a diagram (Figure 1) illustrating the thought process that sustainability professionals should go through when they think about collaboration, and how it should be approached at each stage. Using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a tool for mapping the topics considered in the list of case studies, the working group has provided practitioners with a road map for successful collaborations that resolve sustainability dilemmas in their organisations.

The insights provided show the degree of positive and transformative change that can come from strategic collaboration with peers and other stakeholders across the value chain. Given sustainability’s complexity and interconnected nature, collaboration is vital – both now and in the future.

“During the past 20 years I have had the privilege to work with an unbelievably diverse range of stakeholders (from The Wildlife Trusts to BEIS), sharing objectives, creating solutions, and applying them to develop and deploy best practice," says working group chair Andy Whyle. "This IEMA thought piece clearly shows that I am not the only one to recognise this as an effective way of working. The diverse expertise, dedication and passion of this working group highlights the benefits of organisational collaboration. What we have created (through collaboration) is a reference point for others to follow, allowing them to take the first steps on a journey of collaboration that will engage more and more people and organisations on the path to sustainability. Sharing best practice and working collaboratively towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals is far more efficient and effective than just tackling them as 
a ‘lone champion’ organisation.” 

The IEMA thought piece is available to download by IEMA members from the IEMA Reading Room, non-members can download it from the IEMA Shop. 

Marc Jourdan is IEMA policy and engagement lead.

Image credit | Getty
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