for a meeting on this?’” A neutral ground in terms
of where the meeting takes place helps create a certain comfort level and allows people to open up.
Collaboration can certainly drive transformational change. The Consumer Goods Forum,
representing top retailers and consumer-goods
manufacturers, came together to work to eliminate
net deforestation in members’ supply chains by
sustainably sourcing the commodities that drive
much deforestation: palm oil, beef, soy, and timber.
Those four commodities are responsible for more
than half of worldwide deforestation, which in turn
results in greenhouse gas emissions. It was a pretty
special moment in 2010 when competitors like
Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Coca-Cola,
and PepsiCo agreed on a common agenda to combat deforestation.
This business-led effort actually helped governments raise their level of ambition and reach out to
form the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 in 2012,
which brought businesses, NGOs, and governments together to help support progress toward the
objectives of combatting deforestation. As a result
of this alliance, in September 2014 at the U.N. Climate Summit, the New York Declaration on Forests
was announced, making a very strong statement of
intent to end natural forest loss by 2030 and cut it
in half by 2020. That declaration is an example of
the power that comes when businesses set aside
competition to agree on sustainability as a common goal. One company can lead, but it’s only
when others in the sector align around a common
purpose to create a critical mass that NGOs and
other stakeholders recognize the seriousness of the
companies’ efforts and look to raise their collective
ambition and scale. This kind of system-level alignment would not have occurred in earlier years.
Sustainability is a grand goal for multinational
companies that have been focused for years on
quarterly profits and shareholder value. But financial performance and sustainability are not
mutually exclusive, if the very significant barriers to
aligning them can be identified and surmounted
with impassioned management. Once companies
start on a path toward sustainability, momentum
takes hold and the organizations can move forward,
with the majority of their employees striving
CB Bhattacharya is the Pietro Ferrero Chair in Sustainability and director of the Center for Sustainable
Business at European School of Management and
Technology (ESMT Berlin) in Berlin, Germany; he is
coauthor of Leveraging Corporate Responsibility:
The Stakeholder Route to Maximizing Business
and Social Value (Cambridge University Press,
2011). Paul Polman is CEO of Unilever, chairman
of the World Business Council for Sustainable
Development, and a United Nations Sustainable
Development Goals Advocate. Comment on this
article at http://sloanreview.mit.edu/x/58218, or
contact the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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